Book Excerpts from A Change of Consciousness

Book Excerpts

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Introduction

“We need to open up, to relax, to get away, to obey the deeper laws of our being.”

Henry Miller, “The Wisdom of the Heart”

 

I was a hippie, man. Man, was I a hippie! The word comes from the language of the Beat movement.  A hippie being someone who was “hip” or “with it” and I was definitely “with it.” I was the very definition of a hippie, “an unconventional young person of the Sixties.”  But of course, hippies didn’t go by the book unless it was the Whole Earth Catalogue or Be Here Now.  They defined themselves and their counterculture as they went along.  So a hippie could be anything he or she felt was “hip.”

The tales of an aged hippie set forth herein reflect the extraordinary times that were transforming both America and myself.  I was, or attempted to be, one at a time or altogether: A dreamer. A lover. A spiritual seeker. A psychedelic sojourner. A comrade of the commune.  A nonviolent revolutionary.  A Deadhead.  A draft dodger.  A tree hugger. A freak. And always, a traveler and an adventurer.  I was open to whatever lay down any of the many roads that I travelled and I believe it was this openness that protected me as I went, for who would wish to injure such a harmless, naïve pilgrim?  And long after the Sixties, I still took the path less travelled at every opportunity.

But you must wait to hear my thrilling tales.  Before I describe my hippiedom in detail, we must stand back and look at the times I was traversing.  Why were there hippies and why did we seek to be unconventional?  My generation was the most prosperous and best educated in American history.  For most of the Sixties, if one chose to drop out of the economy for a few years, a good job still awaited on one’s return.  My generation was therefore free to look beyond short term survival, a luxury not available to the previous generations, and we did not like what we saw.  Hippies fought against the conventions of society because what we saw was that the social structure was suffocating, society’s goals were self-defeating, and the end result of it all was violent and destructive.   Threats to our continued existence could be seen in the stockpiles of nuclear weapons, our ever-increasing industrialization with its concomitant destruction of the environment, and the hatred that, around the world, fed war and racism.  A popular song even portrayed us as being on the “Eve of Destruction.”  We could only conclude that we must liberate the old culture: sexually, spiritually, artistically and in just about every other way.   The Fifties had been about conquering the physical world with: mass industrial production, atomic energy, interstate highways, and rockets and satellites.  The Sixties became about becoming one with the spiritual world and ending the separation of each from the other.

A change of consciousness brought about a counterculture that accelerated that change as the new consciousness grew and evolved. At first the use of psychedelic drugs was the main source of a new perspective.  Clinical studies show the psychedelic experience to be both significant and lasting, producing a new world-view that is both positive and sustaining.[1]  For many, the more demanding, but more permanent, path of achieving oneness through spiritual development supplanted psychedelic drugs. For others such an awakening could be achieved merely by viewing a vibrant, fecund earth rising behind a dead and lifeless moon against the backdrop of an infinite void. But whatever the path, a change in consciousness came from the direct experience of a oneness with the earth, and therefore each other, a return to the aboriginal connection of man and nature. This was a real and lasting change of consciousness by those who experienced being a part of all creation. After such an experience the world could never be viewed the same again.

And so a counterculture emerged as a reaction to conventional society and as an expression of a changing consciousness.  In 1967 hippies heeded the call to “put a flower in your hair” and go to San Francisco.  In the “Summer of Love” the counterculture went public.  The new culture was the opposite of the prevailing one.  The counterculture went from: closed to open, exclusive to inclusive, static to evolving, puritanical to hedonistic, Orwellian to non-authoritarian.  The counterculture was a new music, a new art and a communal, natural style of living.  It was: a family of “brothers and sisters”, a Rainbow tribe, a political and cultural movement, a “dissenting religion”[2] and/or the harbinger of a “New Age.” A new word emerged: “consciousness–raising” defined as: to increase concern and awareness, especially of political and social issues. The counterculture was against the Vietnam War and for environmental protection, the assertion of civil rights, and a non-violent fight for peace.

My generation may not have achieved all our goals but we did raise many a consciousness and we were vastly influential. These extraordinary times transformed America, for better and for worse, in ways both profound and mundane.  Today, the Beatles are heard in the supermarket and marijuana is well down the path to full legalization.  Meditation is taught by your HMO, yoga and massage studios are everywhere and Tibetan Buddhism and other Eastern religions are well established in the west.  Local, organic and vegan food is readily available, as are practitioners of oriental and integrative medicine. More profoundly, the law, to some extent or another, now protects women, African Americans, and the LGBT community. Environmental protection, again to some extent or another, is a legal fact and a strong movement. We ended the Vietnam War and with it the draft. The military is now an all-volunteer force. This is all a long ways from the Fifties and it all came out of the Sixties.

Before we relive the amazing adventures of a hippie I will provide a brief sketch of the historical context in which my stirring stories of yesteryear took place. For those of my generation who might say “But I was there”, as the saying goes: “If you can remember it, you weren’t there.”  So if you changed your consciousness a little too much, or are now just a little too old to always remember where the car keys are, a refresher course will not be amiss.  For all others you may choose to skip the history and go straight to “the magical mystery tour” at your peril.

The tales of an aged hippie that follow are my stories and the stories of others who shared my journey. When we are older, and most of life is behind us, we are our stories.  They define the trip we took and why we are here and even where we may be going. Though memory may deceive, the tales herein are as true to the times and how I experienced them as my recollections can recall.  A few names and incidents have been changed to protect the guilty. I have, and had, no such worries and prefer to expose my hippiehood in all its glory, idiotic and otherwise.

In 1968 I arrived in San Francisco, the beating heart of the revolution.  The counterculture I joined there was trying to define itself as it went at warp speed beyond the limits of what society told us was good for us. The thought that there were good reasons why no man had gone there before never entered my mind.  The hippie motto, “if it’s fun just do it”, should have come with a warning label:  “Caution: your actions have consequences. Fun should be exercised with discretion.” But of course all warnings would have been unheeded as I, full of heedless youth, was full speed ahead into the unknown.  I turned and turned to the tunes of the Grateful Dead, experimented chemically and spiritually, sought the communal dream in New Mexico, and finally settled in the Land of Enchantment to do battle as a bearded lawyer for the environment and against the powers that be. Though certain elements of my hipness may have gradually passed away, such as using drugs other than Prilosec, I believe I remained a somewhat unconventional figure through the decades that followed my youthful escapades, though I may have become somewhat more conventional by the 1990’s, or is that to be by my 90’s?

Anyway, it was the Sixties that defined me and in my youth I shared in the adventure and risk-taking of an era that sought great change, and achieved some of it, but also saw much violence. I was fortunate that I had the freedom and resources to explore a time of great opportunity and excitement and that I survived the darker reaches of those times. To some extent, good stories are always good because you survived danger.  It is disaster or near disaster, often stemming from naiveté or sheer stupidity, that makes us sit up and listen. I hope you’ll enjoy the tales and thereby make the craziness that engendered them perhaps worthwhile. How intact I came out of these experiments you must judge for yourself.  Many did not weather the trip as well. So children, don’t do what I did.  (Like you’ll listen.) Fellow travelers, it has indeed been a long strange trip.

 

[1] Retrieved from www.webmd.com (2011, June 16).

[2] Miller, T. (2011, December 19). Hippies and American Values. Knoxville, TN: Univ. of Tennessee Press.