Okay, yes, I was a 'hippy'. My forty-something, corporate manager in Silicon Valley of a daughter thinks that hippies were just stoned hedonists. She says the word 'hippy' as if it were an epithet. She is also a devoted materialist who thinks having money is very close to Nirvana. She is clueless on both counts. I have never been ashamed of that part of my life, never regretted it one iota, quite the contrary, in fact.
I dropped out of grad school in '71 and took a motorcycle trip to California from New Mexico. Up to that point, I had only a passing idea that there was something happening that was being referred to as "the counter-culture". It was a term that piqued my curiosity and when I ran smack into the middle of it, I was a goner. I returned to Albuquerque, sold my motorcycle, dumped most of my possessions that wouldn't fit in a backpack into a dumpster, and moved to San Rafael, in Marin County CA. I was immediately accepted into an extended family of unique souls, all of whom I came to love and for whom I have great respect and admiration. Every member of our little family had a former life in which they had been trapped and unhappy. Each of us knew that adopting the counter-cultural lifestyle was a form of liberation, from EVERYTHING.
Did we get stoned? Hell, yes. Was so-called 'free love' commonplace? Duh. Were we hedonistic? Not exactly. If a person supposes that being there at that time and place was all about having 'fun' and 'being hip', they have missed the core of what it was really all about. More than anything.....we were IDEALISTS. We had the temerity to actually hope, to believe, that a new society could and would emerge from the one that we all felt alienated from. We called ourselves 'freaks', and did so with a measure of some pride. We practiced freedom on a level that I had never even imagined was possible. It was not about staying high and having as much sex as possible......that was a side-effect of feeling that if something was not harmful to anybody else, and it felt 'good', then it must actually be okay. Cultural conventions were tossed aside, in favor of following a sense of what seemed right in that moment, in those times.
We were pacifists. I knew many Bay Area hippies who were, like me, veterans of the Vietnam era. I have written about one of them here previously, Russell. He remains one of the most remarkable souls I have encountered this lifetime. Far from being stoneheads, we were stoned on BEING ALIVE, as alive as we could possibly be, and in every way we could be. I hitch-hiked across the country five times, without more than a few bucks in my pocket, and with everything I owned in a backpack. I saw and experienced enough to write books and books about it. The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" seemed apropos to describe being so free and open to life. I also went to Europe, arrived in Paris with $40, and stayed all summer and into the fall, worked at two jobs in Germany, learned about life there on a level that would have been impossible as a regular tourist.
We referred to 'straight' people as being 'lame'. It was snobbish, but, to us, they acted so lame that the term became simply a useful means to describe a mind-set, more than it was a judgment. Through it all there was this feeling that we could find a way of being in the world that didn't feel like enslavement, to a job or to a set of conventions that imposed such a stultifying world-view. We embraced with a feeling of reverence the idea that Love was the answer to most of the world's problems. And, while that may seem just a tad simplistic as one looks at the problems we face today, I still believe that is essentially TRUE.
Looking around, and feeling alienated once again...I am coming back around to the idea that an alternative lifestyle and each day being viewed as a new opportunity to feel fully ALIVE, and to do it with love if at all possible..........may well be the most viable answer to the hatred, divisiveness and depression that is stalking the land. Living simply, with a feeling that the things that truly matter are the most simple of all....is still, after all these years, the one approach to life that just makes sense.
The question is: can we get back to that?
Some already have.....some never let it go.