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The Tao of Therapy1
Francis Huxley, Social Anthropologist and Ronald D.Laing, Psychiatrist
Friendship – Influence – Enchantment
Their contribution to the Philadelphia Association, 1964–1982


Talk given on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the PA London
25. June 2005


Ladies and Gentleman, dear friends and colleagues: it is an honour to speak to you on this celebration of brotherly and sisterly love. Sibling love indeed. May I express my thanks to all those among us, who have made this gathering possible.

I have seen the Bird of Paradise,
with its magnificent yellow, orange red feathers, gliding quietly through the air,
majestically landing on a lower branch of the Tree of Life.
Rooted in the wide open and welcoming Garden of Love.
To take a pause, to rest and quiet down,
before it spread its wings again to the warm vivid air,
fly on fly on..

I have seen and experienced P.A. brother- and sisterhood in action. One looking after another, looking after oneSelf, being together and apart, gathering anew… honouring the saying of Rabbi Jeschu:

Where two or three are gathered in my name: the life, the truth, the way
There I am, in their midst.

I experienced fellowship between the members, associate members, trainees, apprentices, members of households, between households, general study programme students, families of members, their children, between mates and spouses, ladies, lads, and all. Oh! - that comforting sense of a sympathetic resonance between my feelings, my common destiny, and to feel at home with whatever else is taking place in the universe.

I have seen behind the curtain. I was behind the curtain and have tasted the wind of change, looked into the pond of narcissism, opened the door into darkness where evil thoughts entertain me, I felt the frame of the precious threshold of the open door being pulled apart, witnessed one up man ship, mockery, laughter at our selves, animosity, friendship.

My talk today is my way of paying tribute and expressing deep appreciation for Francis Huxley (1923) and Ronald David Laing (1927-1989). Both have contributed to the success, well-being and flourishing of the P.A. from 1964 – 1982. Both have written numerous books, have frequently broadcast on British radio and television, and have contributed many articles and reviews to learned and literary periodicals as well as national newspapers.

Francis Huxley and Ronnie Laing first met at a Conference on Ritualisation, held at the Royal Society, London, in 1965. Organised by Francis’ father, Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975), son of Leonard Huxley (1860-1933) and Julia Arnold daughter of Matthew Arnold, whose book, Culture and Anarchy, was a formative influence on Ronnie Laing. Julian Huxley had coined the term ritualisation of behaviour in describing the mating habits of birds. As one of the renowned polymaths in British cultural and scientific life of the last Century, he was one time Professor of Zoology at Rice, Oxford University, and King's College, London. He was Director of the Zoological Society, thus the London Zoo, and became the first Director General of United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Sir Julian was a prolific writer of over 30 books on many a field, whose major theoretical contributions included the role of emergence in biological processes and the Modern Synthesis.

Francis Huxley, educated at Gordonstoun School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he gained a B.Sc. in Zoology and an M.A. Social Anthropology, is the great-grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), friend of Charles Darwin, and founder of the Huxleys intellectual aristocracy. Before Ronald W. Clarke, wrote his biography on Freud, the Man and the Cause.(1980) – (the paperback version carries a quote from Ronnie’s review in the Guardian: A masterly biography...the private man, the public figure, his circle, the cause and the controversies he generated.) Clarke wrote The Huxleys (1968), the first book to tell the full and fascinating story of England’s most famous intellectual family.

Francis’s mother, Lady Juliette Baillot Huxley (1896-1995), was born in the small fishing village of Auvernier on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Her great aunt, was a well-known herbalist. Juliette Huxley wrote

I have always felt that something of her faith in herbs, her link with the moon, her knowledge and interest in healing ways had descended to me from her blessed hands. And curiously and more active to my son Francis (Juliette Huxley, Leaves of the Tulip Tree, 1986, p.5-6)

With a taste for outlandish places, Francis went as an undergraduate to investigate hippos in Gambia and the Birds of Jan Mayen Island, and shortly before graduating in zoology had sailed as a crewman on the ‘Blondie’Hasler, on an ornithological expedition to Sula Sgeir and Rona, those barren outposts fifty miles north west of Cape Wrath. Francis had served as an lieutenant in the Royal Navy during World War II. After seeing the horrors of war he veered from zoology towards anthropology and spent some six months in 1951 and 1953 living with the Urubus, a tribe of the Tupinamba peoples, who live between the roughly north-eastern courses of the Pindaré and Gurupi rivers, in the Amazon jungle of Brazil.

In the two years following his return (1953-55), Francis Huxley held the position of Assistant Curator of the Liverpool Museum; he then worked as social anthropologist in the Weyburn Hospital, Canada (1957-58), and from 1963-68 was Research Fellow at St. Catherine’s College. From 1974 to 1982, Francis was Principal of Studies of the Philadelphia Association, London.

When Francis and Ronnie first met, (at the Conference on Ritualisation, mentioned earlier) Ronnie Laing was 37 years old, in private practice as a much sought after psychoanalyst, and at the time still at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations as principal investigator, Schizophrenia and Family Research Unit, and Fellow of the Foundations Found for Research in Psychiatry.

Ritualisation and abnormal behaviour was the title of his talk. He pointed out that as social norms shift, and they certainly did in the mid 60’s, so shift the demarcation lines between what most people regard as normal and abnormal. He gave examples of para- or anti-ritualisation, private rituals that seem to be self-gratifying or self-rewarding, aiming at anxiety reduction and destructuring the usual social structure of communication. Laing said, with Francis Huxley among the audience:

On closer understanding, however, the ritual may be found not only to be self-directed but also to have a socially directed message, conveyed in a privately elaborate code. It becomes the psychotherapist’s task to decode it. Sometimes, if the patients trust one enough, he will decode his signals himself, or explain them retrospectively after he has given up the ritual. (p.332-333)

This subject, as we all know is very complex, and in appreciation of this, Laing concluded with a statement of hope that he had

“...succeeded in conveying something both of the extraordinary complexity of the rituals and pararituals known to psychiatrists, and the fundamental simple fear of and longing for communication that underlies them. Ritualisation is a formal patterning of the encounter, the meeting of human beings. Behaviour as parody, a pararitual or deritualisation of normal ritual, is first regarded as abnormal, next as ill, and finally may be excommunicated. Thereafter, in clinical psychiatric terminology, it ‘deteriorates’. It becomes more and more rigid, repetitious, telegrammatic, and cryptic. But then, we have not only an aberration of normal ritual, but an aberration of an aberration.” (334-5)

Francis Huxley, (41 years old at the time) had entitled his talk: The Ritual of Voodoo and the symbolism of the body. He began to describe Voodoo

... as basically a familial ancestral cult held in place, as it were, by a large pantheon of gods.... Mental crisis are as common in Haiti as elsewhere, and they are not all regarded as springing from the querulous demands of gods or ancestors. Most of them in fact come from the unrealistic demands of parents upon their children. (p.423)

Francis Huxley had spent some nine months between 1959–60, in Haiti, having come from working in a mental hospital in Canada, where the problem of mental illness and its cure had intrigued him. What he was looking for was whether voodoo had its own way of coping with insanity, either by herbal or ritual means. Huxley concludes:

Voodoo is a method which encourages dissociation and possession in a temple, where individual and social forces meet. The ritual and the symbolism they employ not only carry the individual towards such states, that carry an intellectual meaning; but others are, what Piaget called sensory-motor symbols, springing from sources hidden to the rational mind...Images in fact seem to be connected with awareness of physical states which cannot be verbally defined; and ritual can be seen as a way of resolving the mind-body dichotomy, by acting out the force of those images which the body proposes to the mind. (p.427)

Francis Huxley, senior lecturer in Oxford, was about to publish his third book, The Invisibles (1966), where he recounts his experiences with warmth and directness, with humour and wisdom giving readers insight into the rich Haitian lore of healing plants, voodoo ceremonies, and instructions for rituals which he received from practising priests. To mark the beginning of their new friendship, Ronnie Laing, then living at Kingsley Hall, had invited Francis to come and give a talk. Francis went, and spoke on The Body and the Mind (17th Feb1966, MS Laing L 226).

Kingsley Hall’s auspicious history spans all decades of the first half of the last century. Founded in 1912 by Doris and Muriel Lester, it was named in memory of their brother Kingsley Lester, who died in 1914, leaving what money he had for their social work in Bow towards 'educational, social and recreational' purposes. The Lester sisters practised a radical stand in the Political Arena, maintaining a strong link with the Suffragette Movement, and during the General Strikes of 1926, Kingsley Hall became a shelter and soup kitchen for workers. Among many notable guests, Gandhi stayed at Kingsley Hall in 1933, while negotiating with the British Prime Minister for Indian independence.

In 1965, R.D. Laing and his colleagues asked the Lesters for use of the Hall as a community for themselves and a few people in a state of psychosis. As a result, Kingsley Hall became home to one of the most radical experiments in psychology and psychotherapy of the time. Based on the notion that psychosis, a state of reality akin to living in a waking dream, is not an illness simply to be eliminated through a variety of treatments. The P.A. sought to allow psychotic people the space to explore their madness and internal chaos. What a place!

When these two men became friends, remaining so for the next 23 years until Ronnie’s death in August 1989, both had already achieved a great deal in their own respective field of professional competence. Both had published their first book at the age of 33 years, to have their own voice heard, and to find out where they stood in relation to their contemporaries. Laing had authored two major works, The Divided Self (1960), and The Self and Others (1961), and co-authored Reason and Violence (1964), Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964) and Interpersonal Perception: A Theory and a Method of Research (1966).

Huxley had written Affable Savages (1956), translated into French by Monique Lévi-Strauss, praising his anthropological approach as...un curant nouveau dans l’anthropologie anglaise. In his Peoples of the World (1964) Francis traced the history and origin of the peoples in each part of the world, and the effects such factors as climate, migration and myth have on them. In 1959 he published a penetrating, thorough essay on Darwin – Life and Habit, delineating human patterns on the frontier between mind and matter, which produce our habits of behaving, experiencing and thinking, thus being himself very much in the service of the family spirit of his grandfather, Thomas Henry and his uncle, Aldous Huxley.

After his work with the Tupinamba Tribe – the Urubus, and his interest in their shamanic tradition, he went on to study and work with Humphrey Osmond, the 1917 Surrey born graduate from Guy’s Hospital Medical School, who died recently in Feb. 2004. When Francis Huxley came to the Weyburn Mental Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada, the research on how hallucinogenics such as LSD 21, Mescaline, might help to treat and understand mental illness was well underway. Abraham Hoffer, a leading biochemist at that time, had paired up with Osmond. Aldous Huxley, living in Hollywood, upon reading about Osmond’s research into similarities between so called schizophrenia and mescaline intoxication, volunteered to try the substance. Dr. Osmond agreed, but later wrote that he ..did not relish the possibility, however remote, of being the man who drove Aldous Huxley mad. The experiment took place in May 1953, (I was 14 months old). Aldous Huxley wrote his experience up in what became his two books, The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956). The LA rockgroup, “The Doors”, took their title from Aldous’ book.

One of the theoretical conclusions of Osmond and Hoffer was that LSD could truly accomplish the transcendence that is repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought in drunkenness. During the time in which, in England and the USA, psychedelic (a term coined by Osmond) research became increasingly difficult and was finally forbidden, Laing was one of the medical researchers in London who had a government licence to do LSD research. Ronnie met Albert Hofmann in Spring 1982; Hofmann was participating in a day long seminar with Francis, in Zurich, (which he enjoyed so much), and at that time invited Francis and me for lunch in Basle, during Fastnacht.

Ronnie met Albert Hofmann in Basle too, on the lecture tour “Ways and Means in Psychiatry”, which I had organised in Switzerland in November 1982. Hofmann said: I always thought that La Ing was a Chinese Psychiatrist living in London. We had a bit of base, while he drove us along the road where he had his first taste of LSD on his bicycle in 1948.

On the political side, Francis Huxley was co-founder of Survival International, for the protection of native peoples in 1969, together with other leading anthropologists of the day, such as Robin Hanbury-Tenison (1936), who became its first Chairman. He was a member of the four person Edwin Brooks mission, sponsored by the Aborigines Protection Society and aided by the Brazilian Government, to undertake to investigate over a two-month period, the situation of the Indian tribes. Their report: Tribes of the Amazon Basin in Brazil 1972, was a joint effort, and Francis had drafted the General Analysis and Conclusion, ending: While this Report is not the place to discuss the nature of Indian religions their psychiatric aspect should not be ignored as a necessary safeguard of mental health. (19 p.145)


If the door of perception were cleansed,
everything will appear to man
and woman,
As it is, infinite.

W. Blake


The human race is a myriad of refractive surfaces
staining the white radiance of eternity.
Each surface refracts the refraction of refraction’s of refractions..

R.D. Laing


Make your Self a vessel!
Guardez la silence

Francis Huxley

RD Laing was considerably influenced by a Brazilian shaman, Lourival, whom Francis introduced him to and was host to in London. Francis described him thus:

What I understood was that he knew how to insult people. He had the discernment of spirits. He knew like R.D.Laing, whom I met shortly afterward, I immediately made a connection because he also had this discernment, and knew how to get at the bad thing in you, by an insult, pain of some kind, a truth that was impossible to take...So it was partly that he was dead-on, and my ‘malicious’ intuition was growing. I had begun to understand the use of malice towards other people as part of the curative process – voodoo and shamanism of this kind. (interview 1999)

Francis Huxley’s obituary in the Guardian, 25th August 1989, was titled: The Liberating shaman of Kingsley Hall. In it, Francis writes that Ronnie Laing invited him to join the P.A.,

because of my interests as a social anthropologist in such things as shamanism, which I had recently come into powerful contact with. Laing, there is no doubt, had the shamanic temperament and recognised the fact. This gift, which so often begins as a disorder, is not recognised as such in western psychiatry, which therefore cannot use its therapeutic advantages; a fact which, of course, underlies so much of Laing's writing on radical psychiatry which surmounts to no less than what psychiatry should be doing if it truly understood the facts of the case.

In his chapter on "Shamanism, Healing and R.D.Laing" in Salman Raschid's edited: R.D.Laing – Contemporary Perspectives (Fab 2005) he elaborated further on this subject, who’s natural focus is an I-Thou moment. In his farewell address to Ronnie, at St. James’s, Piccadilly, in January 1990, Francis said: I honour him more than I can tell you, reminding his audience of Laing’s struggles, his psychic fist hitting at the navel of insincerity. ( John Clay, 1996, p.266) Clay told me later, that it was this authentic statement, which prompted him to write his enthusiastic biography on Laing.


The sign of Tao.

Schju =head, chief, leader.. in connection with communication.
When you look at the sign of Tao, you see two schju, representing feelers on the head, then a line down, the neck connecting the torso.
Dschhog = the foot with its various bones in movement.

Tao is a head which received wisdom, knowing about a Way; this authentic wisdom can only be Truth. Tao is a teaching, which can only be passed on, by “being-one-Self-on-the-way”. On the way it is tested, on the way it will reveal its proof. Insofar this truth possesses, yes, contains within it self, a leading function.

I am on my way. We are on our way. You all know the badge for Taoism, the yin/yang, the dark spot in the light, and the light spot in the dark. Laotse has probably drawn this for the first time in road dust, while pausing to express the inexpressible to his companions. Maybe he just wanted to aid his thinking by drawing a model. What do I know. Laotse was on his way on this earth after his birth sometime-between 604-571 BC. He is reputed to have authored the Tao-te-king.

As wounded healers, we are orchestrating in our vocation the wound in us. We aimed to heal it through our apprenticeship in the healing arts, so that our souls wound can become a scar, on which line I can orient my soul making.

In a Tao of Therapy, I practice:

Meditatio to think after ponder on dreams, visions and sink down to the collective soul, unconscious, power that be..

Pradicatio to praise, to speak up, in the service of the soul, to let the vision and pictures of experience in soul making come into language. Always an approximation.

Visitio to visit the other as the other, to see clearly with my eyes, to view my seeing, and to see through a social situation, be with others

Two members of the P.A., John Heaton (1968) and Francis Huxley (1990) each wrote a book on The Eye. Ronnie himself was at pains to point out to us, that a major part in his theory-making, was focused:

... to depict and describe what goes on between people’s experience(E) as mediated by their behaviour (B). I want to convey how I see the interconnections between personal interactions and how different ways of seeing may generate different ways of acting and vice versa. (1985, p.205 The use of existential phenomenology)

We say, don’t we: I see patients. Ronnie to me, in 1981 – Cure those you don’t want to see.

The first time I saw and heard R.D.Laing, in October 1975, in Kensington Central Library, the title of his lecture was: What is the Philadelphia Association? (11 Dec. 1975, MS Laing A78)

At that time I was a 23 year-old undergraduate at Enfield College, now Middlesex University, reading Social Sciences and psychology in particular. Laing’s work featured in two exam questions, one in clinical- and one in social psychology. In those days, you could not become a BPS psychologist in the UK, without having at least read The Divided Self, The Politics of Experience, and The Politics of the Family.

Brian Evans, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, upon hearing that I was going to a seminar of Francis Huxley, in 1975, lent me his hardcover copy of The Way of the Sacred. He knew Francis from his talks at the Dialectics of Liberation Congress, and the short lived Anti-University in 1968.

I entered the PA as an apprentice in 1976, living in the Archway Community. Francis’ The Way of the Sacred (1974) was just out in paperback, which I spotted on the tables of people I had to go to, to be interviewed (Chris Oakley, Leon Redler, Michael Yokum) to be sussed out as suitable to be taken on as trainee. I realised there and then the richness and importance of Francis Huxley’s work for Ronnie Laing and the P.A.

The Way of the Sacred is about the paths that human beings have traditionally followed in approaching the sacred. It is about the ways by which we cross the boundary between ordinary life and what is set apart from it, and by which we come to terms with the objects, the places, the people, and the experiences we holds in awe and wonder because of the dangerous and intoxicating power they represent to us.

So what did Ronnie Laing say the P.A. was about?

...There’s no getting away from the bias in the actual founding members and present members of the Association in the direction of psychiatry. And if you like, what I would say is the overall subject of which psychiatry can be regarded as both a part and an application of anthropology. We’re concerned with the domain of human beings, and we’re concerned particularly with distress – human distress – which is a variety of human suffering, and human misery. So we have a certain domain of particular relevance, and a domain we attempt to cultivate competent within our skilful means of conduct and respect...

If anyone becomes distressed in our society to the extent at which they’re unable to cope within their own life, then they come within the domain of distress that psychiatry is occupied with, they’re fundamentally at the mercy of other people.... a lot what we say we can do, we can easier define by saying what we don’t do. As the central core being the practice, and the central core of that practice means the existence and the flourishing of those places that are variously alluded to as asylums or sanctuaries, households or dwellings, where we hope there is a measure of safety in that people in distress, and therefore at the mercy of other people, are not going to be taken advantage of by others and do things to them for their good that they don’t want. Or for my good I don’t want, or for any of us, that we regard as persecution and violation and trespassing upon ourselves. If we were in that position where someone else is being done in, we would feel that. So we have to act according to that sensibility...

Since our name implies that we are an association, it means that no one’s thinking of being able to do everything in one person – himself or herself – at one lifetime. There is a division of function and some things are some people’s cup of tea and other people have other aptitudes and talents etc. All of which one hopes can be (ONE) in our contribution to the common weal, both as idiosyncratic and unique as everyone is, and at the same time allow the recognition of a certain sharing of what we can continually allude to, but doesn’t admit exact definition at all...

There’s a number of dwellings, a number of people living in and a round.

A number of us involved in studying the nature of our neck of the woods as far as the human situation is concerned in as clear-headed and as open-hearted a way as we can bring ourselves to or that we‘re graced by. In a belief that that in itself, that attentiveness to one another is itself the key to what is called that respect we have people who have particular interests in anthropology, phenomenology; different sorts of mediation – any sort of skilful means in therapy or in meditation, or through the exercise of one’s body or mind, either spontaneously or in particularly directed ways, thereby in simple doing the one thing we can do best... we cultivate between ourselves what we feel is decent and genuine...we are certainly involved in something to do with suffering, and suffering, allowing experience to happen. The metaphor there for me is the Heart...we do our best within the limits of what is allowable or permissible. And we live then with the belief that if man gets away with the crucifixion, the resurrection is out of our control.(p.1-22)

When innocence is gone, where can I turn to and go?
I don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
When the will of heaven does not protect me, can I do anything?

Yes, we in the P.A. cultivate and nourish a sense of wholeness, some like to call it a Gestalt, to understand how we live our life, and how we are lived, by the Unconscious, what the trouble is that disturbs the calm smooth sailing. We tend to reframe content and form, view context and matrix, to sense again, that each person is a whole, in relationship to the whole.

In 1984, Ronnie said, when asked what his therapy was:

I call my type of therapy – Integral Therapy, because integral means the whole and that means that I don’t confine myself say to practising so called psychotherapy or psychoanalysis or any particular method...I regard myself as a priest of Asklepios.. a method of healing which is incubation...the skilful method of helping people out of catastrophic states of mind that they want to be helped out of themselves. That is therapy. And the main factor in this skilful means, in this method of therapy, is one’s own presence, one’s own relationship to the universe.
(August 1984 interview with CHIOS Greece, Ms L157)

Francis called the PA households, Ronnie’s theatre of the absurd. His tips:

· Don’t trespass on others.
· Know what you do before you do it.
· If you can’t talk about the principle, then experience it.

The question: When we come to our limit, what then? What do we come to in reaching the end of our tether? What do we do when we don’t know what to do, what to do?

“There must be either something or nothing. That there should be neither of these is absurd. Are we making Nonsense, by defining the absurd as the limit?” asked Francis.
“No,” said Ronnie, “it is all up for grabs.”
The Swedish TV crew who filmed the P.A. in 1976/7, gave their documentary film this title. (see Experiment in Living)

In Summer 1972, Francis Huxley was commenting on A.D Forrest’s talk on Madness and Mysticism, where the later criticised Ronnie’s stance that the schizoid magic is being used to state something very important, which is not purely a psychiatric or psychotherapeutic issue. Francis Huxley ends his comments with the following words:

As for Laing, he reminds me of the precocious boy who came to test the wisdom of the 6th Patriarch of Chinese Buddhism. ‘My learned friend, said the Patriarch, ‘ can you tell me what is the fundamental principle? If you do, you know the owner. Try to say something, please’. He tried, and was rebuffed for his presumption: but at least he tried. (Contact, Nr.38, 1972, Edinburgh. P.149)

Ten years later, (27 Jan.1982), The Guardian printed an edited extract from Peter Sedgewick’s new book: Psycho-Politics, with the title: “R.D.Laing, the retreat from Socialism”. Francis had reviewed the book the day after, without knowing that The Guardian had featured Sedgewick a day before. He ends his review, “Anti-psychiatry and other disorders”, by saying:

Ah yes, those were the days. How to construct another such total alternative to the inhumanity of capitalism now is the problem, which is not the same as Laing’s efforts to house the mentally ill with out categorising them in psychiatric term. Or is it?

By the time I entered the PA as an apprentice, Ronnie Laing had just published The Facts of Life and Francis Huxley The Raven and the Writing Desk. Despite the difference between those two very personal books, the difference in style, in approach, in language, in the lay out – R&WD is illustrated, as are in fact all 7 books of Francis’ books – both are concerned with the basic theme of living a good and decent life, accepting one’s inner turmoils, one’s dark side of the soul, one’s joy and sorrow, and how to make a creative leap into sublimation and sustaining personal well being.

The Raven and the Writing Desk can also be read as a very helpful map to one’s own sense-making of what went on in the P.A. households.

Laing is quoting Francis Huxley, for the first time, if I am correct, in The Politics of the Family (1968 – Massey Lectures, p.40), while discussing Rules and Metarules. He writes:

One tends to assume that every negative rule (such as that against incest) implies a prior desire, impulse, propensity, instinct, tendency to do it. Don’t do that, implies that one would be inclined to if not forbidden.

There is a treasure at the bottom of the tree. You will find it. Only remember not to think of a white monkey. The moment you do, the treasure will be lost to you forever. (A favourite story of Francis Huxley) In The Politics of the Family and other Essays (1971, p112)

In The Voice of Experience (1982) Ronnie Laing acknowledges fruitful discussions on the theme of this book, who, one way or another, have had an influence on what is written here, stemming from personal conversations, apart of what they have written: among others Francis Huxley. In Part Two of the book, on Embryologems, Psychologems, Mythologems, Ronnie quotes Francis’ reviewing the mythologem of the Golden Embryo and related themes: Huxley (1979) writes, “ We are certainly dealing with a vision of embryonic life here” (pp.28,29)

When three years before, The Dragon – Sprit of Nature, Nature of Spirit (1979) came out, Ronnie remarked that Francis is really writing very eccentric and curious books, indeed. And yet, I reckon, that Ronnie enjoyed so very much the company of a truly refreshing social anthropologist, that he began to call some of his vignettes: ‘Field notes’, in his Essay in Feeling, Facts and Fantasy. He, like Francis, tried his hand in expressing in a new way what he saw and how he would say what he experienced. He was proud to have found a structural way to describe a case, such as the one of the 14 year-old girl, the sample of Chicago.


Ronnie was once snarling at Francis for not writing the social anthropology of the PA, its members, households, scene. Francis had given it a try of course, without Ronnie knowing, and found it was impossible to do. Was it because there was no Cosmology, I enquired? No, he said, thank God it worked without one. There were four chiefs and hardly a tribal culture, there was so much individualism. It reminded him of Colin Turbull’s study of the Mountain People. Totally individualised. It wasn’t to be done.

The first time I saw Francis and Ronnie together in action was in Tollington Park Road, the Archway Community, in late autumn 1977. One woman resident had just taken up the common room as her own space –squatting a squat? – and when I returned from doing my errands, I sat in the kitchen, forever the centre of the house, and heard humming and drumming and singsongs. Who is that, I asked David? Oh Francis, Ronnie and Paul doing a healing stint. When they came out, after a few hours, soaked in their own sweat, they gladly had a cup of tea, washed their faces and neck in public. Ronnie sat up on the washing sink, while Francis leaned against a wall. They chatted with us, and told stories. Of course, I among others was a wee bit jealous, for none of us received this kind of treatment. Only the maddest in the house do. So there is a continuous competition, once that spot was up for grabs. Presently it was occupied. Lesson one: Be as mad as you can, and you get full undivided attention.

When I visited Francis Huxley for the first time as an apprentice, he invited me to express my wishes. I wished for his support, guidance and wisdom of the heart. He said: My door is always open. So it is till today for the last 30 years, quite an achievement, for which he congratulated us both, the other day. Anyhow, he then said: You get yourself a journal. First thing you do, is to draw a map of the two houses of Archway Community, each floor, gather all the information you can on the current residents of each room, try to find out who lived there before, then see who swapped which room with whom and why, find out which complaints and daimons find which room in the house. Try to remember all dreams relating to the PA, madness, households. This was the first field work assignment, and I had to report back, with drawing and all. I wrote every day of the nine months I lived in the PA community. I continued to do so after I left, till Summer 1981.

It was obvious to all those who worked and studied with Francis Huxley, that one of his major academic influences was Claude Lévi-Strauss. His mentor in Oxford was of course E.E. Evans-Pritchard, whose Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande were required reading in his training seminars for psychotherapy.

Please try to imagine, how his anthropological insights into the ways and means of other peoples coping with madness, placed in the context of a Cosmology, did enrich our understanding and sense making of what was going on under our eyes in the P.A. households. Once you know the larger story, the myth, you can place the individual happening, the individual content of experience, in a safe context. Safe only insofar as it remains within this larger system or container of thought. Then you might know and predict what is going to happen next.

In the General Study Programme, he taught on a large variety of Subjects, from: Rhyme, Reason and Nonsense, Anthropology of Houses, Playing and Reality, Practices of Initiation, to the Road of Excess – Many societies recognise a class of mental disorders as the start of a spiritual development. These are the initiatory illnesses of shamanism and possession cults which are fostered and developed rather than brought to a stop. Passing on the tradition: political and therapeutic consequences.

This influenced Ronnie to give his workshops on Saturday afternoons: Out of many years experience with extreme situations in P.A. households Ronnie Laing and his colleagues were engaged in evolving what might be called primal rituals rites of passage appropriate to the impasses, blocks and confusions which beset our life cycle in our day and age.

In the P.A. as I experienced it, from the mid 1970’s till early 80’s, there was a lot of interdisciplinary teaching, practice and fun going on. Anthropology and mythology, phenomenology and psychoanalysis from the independent mind group, and existential analysis was also on the menu.

The main reason for me to chose Archway Community as my base was Ronnie Laing’s fortnightly visits to Community meetings. The meetings were held alternately in Tollington Park Rd. and in Shafterbury Rd. One evening he came together with Paul Zeal, the house therapist, and another guest, and after we had had our time to share and express our troubles and joys, he let his own story loose.

His daughter Susan (1954-1976) had recently died. She was diagnosed at the fine age of 21, just about to be married, with monoblastic leukemia. The doctors in the Glasgow hospital, did not want to tell Susi, that she had very little time left. Ronnie thought it imperative that she will have to be put into the picture. Ronnie told his daughter that she had a form of leukaemia for which there was no know cure, and that in all likelihood, barring a miracle, she would not live very long,- perhaps six months.(Adrian Laing, 1997/p.182) There was anger and turmoil, yet Susi came out of the hospital and moved into her fiancé’s house, to die in dignity among the reunited first family of Ronnie and Ann Laing.

There he was, sitting on a mattress, telling the story and his feelings in a variety of ways, tears rolling down his fatherly face. He amazed us, he astonished us..the great master in tears. What a gift of a lesson he gave us all. He gave example how we can use such a community meeting for our own hurt soul, and get sympathy and fresh warmth for our soul. The emotional flooding can be flown with, swim with the tide, and once the wave rolls out onto the sand, or intermingles with other waves of the ocean of life, a calmness returns. So does joy. Afterwards he mused over the choice to be up or down. Sometimes, like now, I really prefer to be down, for then I know the ground and have it under foot.

Yes, dear colleagues, we could now launch into a reflection of this experience, do a meta analysis or even a meta-meta one, however, the main point I would like to make with this example is, metanoia is in the here and now, not a ideal.

He encouraged us who after all were in these households to sort out our troubles and clean up our acts, our numbers, our spiel. As some were fond of saying. The floor can be taken by anyone, and his or her soul, or Self. True and false, be shown to the mates, like a living theatre – which was 10 years in fashion by then. Then we “dare come out of mystification, and demystifying mystification,” as Francis sometimes called the scene among the P.A.’s therapists. Ronnie’s one was, “to have a technique not to have a technique in therapy.” Or house therapist, who said they were not house therapists, or want to be leaders who denied they were leading by not leading. The lot.. there was a continuing flow of sussing out to be done..

Knot 1

They are playing a game.
They are playing at not playing a game.
If I show them I see they are, I
Shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.

What difference does this difference make?

The difference which made the difference between Ronnie Laing and Francis Huxley: Francis came out of a culturally rich and intellectually vivid family, being the fourth generation to grow up in a stimulating climate. He played hide and seek while D.H. Lawrence and Aldous and Julian Huxley discussed the Science of Life. He ate dinner and could hear discussions among the grand chaps on the frontier of science and humanities. No need to drop names, Francis did not do this himself. Ronnie came from a different cultural background: Glasgow lower middle class. Both grew up with music, books and ideas to be explored as well as tested in reality. Both could play the piano, however Ronnie was the star, even in Francis’s home. Both wrote a lot, and yet, if you compare the texts, Ronnie was more the scientist, the shaper and cutter of all unnecessary words, always aiming to be second to none. Francis was more the juggler of ideas and theories. Francis travelled in strange lands in the world, while Ronnie travelled in the strange lands of the mind. Yet their friendship was also an example how they both lived what they preached, and preached what they lived. Remember, when Ronnie had his large domestic and personal crisis in 1981/82, Francis’ door was open, and Ronnie moved in as a guest. Francis was also Godfather to Jutta and Ronnie’s first born son, Adam.

Yes, yes, in the P.A, as I knew and experienced it, we were able to live the possibilities in our politics of experience and politic of the P.A.

Despite all the re-framing, re-structuring, re-de-constructing, demystifying and other actions à la mode, there was con-spiration, there was conviviality, love and passion and enthusiasm.


I want to end this talk by saying thanks and paying respect to the Chief of the Bear Tribe and its Moon Totem, to the Chief of the Snake Tribe and its Sun Totem, some of whose contribution to the Tao of Therapy I have here attempted to display.

Let me thus end, with last stanza of John Keats’

Ode to Psyche

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind:
Far, far around shall those dark-clustere’d tress
Fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep;
And there by zephyrs, streams and birds, and bees,
The moss-lain Dryads shall be lull’d to sleep;
And in the midst of this wide quietness
A rosy sanctuary will I dress
With the wreath’d trellis of a working brain,
With buds, and bells, and stars without a name,
With all the gardener Fancy e’er could feign,
Who breeding flowers, will never breed the same:
And there shall be for thee all soft delight
That shadowy thought can win,
A bright torch, and a casement ope at night,
To let the warm Love in!


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The Tao of Therapy
Francis Huxley, Social Anthropologist and Ronald D.Laing, Psychiatrist
Friendship – Influence – Enchantment
Their contribution to the Philadelphia Association, 1964–1982

Theodor Itten

Talk given on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the PA London
25. June 2005

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