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Oscar Janiger

along with the other two doctors, to see that he wasn’t faking. He stuck a hatpin right through his hand. It didn’t bleed, and we reported that dutifully to the audience. He said he would then lower his blood pressure to 50 over 30, a level at which I felt a person couldn’t live. I took his blood pressure and it was high – about 180 over 110, and I reported that. Then he huffed and puffed and went into a trance. He got rigid, and then we took his blood pressure again. It was 110 over 70 and I reported that to the audience. That evening we met with Aldous, his wife Laura, Anais Nin and her husband Rupert, and this issue came up and I recounted my experience at the theater that morning. And then I said, “So you can clearly see that this man was faking. He said he would lower his blood pressure to 50 over 30, and he didn’t.” I went on to lament that so many of these so-called miracle workers are charlatans. I was very self-righteous. Then Aldous looked at me. He said, (with a British accent) “Dr Janiger.” I said, “Yes?” He said, “Don’t you think it was remarkable that he was able to lower it at all!” (laughter) A light went on in my head. From that moment on, I got a lesson that I always remembered. Then there was Alan Watts, who I had the good fortune to know and to be his physician for part of his life. He was a remarkably intelligent man, probably the best conversationalist I ever met. A witty, very open, candid person – great guy. He lived his life to the hilt. We went to see one of his television shows in which he was a featured guest. The audience was filled with hippy-type kids and everyone was fascinated. During the performance he was smoking these little cigarellos, they’re like little round cigars. So at the end of the performance a hand shot up. “Mr Watts. You tell us about life, and how to be free and liberated. Then why are you smoking these terrible cigars?” Old Alan, when he would get excited, one of his eyes would drift over to the corner of his head. He had this funny look and I knew something was coming. He looked at the young man and he said, “Do you know why I smoke these little cigars? Because I like it!” (laughter) So that’s Alan for you, and it tells the story of his whole life. If that’s Zen, more power to him. Another incomparable man was Gerald Heard. He could get up, give a lecture, and you could transcribe it, with footnotes and all, and it was ready for publication. It came out flawlessly. It was a seamless performance. Somebody in an audience once asked him, “Could you say a few words on architecture?” So Gerald replied, “What kind of architecture?” He said, “Oh, British architecture.” “What year of British architecture?” He said, “Well, let’s say about the end of the nineteenth century.” “Precisely what period are you referring to young man?” He said, “Well, the 1890’s.” Gerald said, “Would you say the first half of the 1890’s?” He said, “Yes.” (laughter) Then Gerald went off for an hour and a half on architecture in England during the first half of the 1890’s. It was a virtuoso performance. Aldous said to me that he thought Gerald was the best informed man alive. Coming from Aldous, that was quite a compliment. Then there were people I didn’t know, but read. Great influences were Joyce, Camus and Bertrand Russell. These were people who meant a lot to me. An incomparable writer named B.Travin added a lot to my understanding of human nature. I get more from what great minds have written about human behavior, than any psychiatric text. Sometimes I feel that I have learned more psychology from Dostoyevsky and Conrad than I have from Freud. I approach my practice that way; by interacting with people as if they were protaganists in their own dramas. That way you can’t be biased. It was the way Proust described the Tower of Combrey. He said, if you really want to know the tower you must see it in the morning light, and in the evening light. You must see it in the winter time covered with snow. You must see it in the summer time. You must see it in the mist, and you must see it sometimes with eyes half closed. You must see it from above and from below. You must see it from the east, north, south and west. Then you’ll begin to know the Tower of Combrey.

DJB: Have you ever given any thought to what happens to human consciousness after physical death?

OSCAR: I’ve given a lot of thought to it, (laughter) but I’m afraid not much productive thought. My bias is that when the current is shut off, we somehow lose our sense of individuality. That is the only way I can put it. Shakespeare said of death, ‘that strange bourne from which no traveller doth return.’ No traveller has ever returned from this journey, so there’s no direct evidence, (laughter) except people who say they have. Well, you can decide for yourself

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