Looking for ground

Because the hippie movement accompanied a revived awareness of feminine energies throughout society, it also attacked patriarchal repression. For male hippies, this demanded a lot of adjustment, if they expected to get laid.

To say the movement was essentially about the hippie chick raises the crucial question: What was it like from her point of view? Which, of course, leads into a host of subsidiary questions: How liberated and empowered did she feel? How did the balance of sexual relationship reestablish itself? How fulfilling were the hippie males as partners? What were the economic expectations? And so on.

I remember a young friend’s reaction, in the early ‘90s, “I wish I had been alive then.” As if she would have fared any better than she was. Wild was still wild, after all, and a beautiful woman was still desirable.

For that matter, just what were they seeking? I think of a housemate one summer who came home later every night with a different woman, how fine they all appeared; last I heard, he was happily married with a half-dozen children and working as a warehouse supervisor. Maybe there was the power of saying, “You look like fun, tonight. I pick you,” without any further complications. (Although I also remember one who returned, some several hundred miles and however long later, with a sense of some other anticipation and subsequent disconnection.) There was also an aspiring surgeon who became the lover, in succession, of both of my housemates and later two brothers, yet spurned my attentions. The same summer my only loving involved a visit by my ex-girlfriend, our final time together, in a bizarre weekend facilitated by her parents. Admittedly, my housemates were in the middle of summer break, while I had to be at the office before dawn. But something else was transpiring.

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I think, too, of a scene that summer when we stopped in briefly at a farmhouse where a festive dinner was occurring, an event in a darkened, candle-lit room with heavy sexual vibrations, male and female. The scene could have come out of a Fellini movie or an opera. Only later was I told it was a gay and lesbian enclave.

Still, what I saw the next summer was heavily coupled, and the women were intensely possessive. More so, in fact, than the males. To some extent, it must have been a reflection of the circle where I was living. The next summer, incidentally, I would be in a celibate, monastic household.

When I look back at the photos, I’m surprised how little change there is in the appearance of the young women then and now. Natural hair – especially long, flowing hair – is still in style. Most of the models on the covers of the Brautigan volumes could still be found on the streets or campuses today. It’s the appearance of the males that’s changed drastically.

When I keep trying to come up with the iconic male hippie, I’m at a loss. If Cher and Tina Turner were female incarnations, Sonny and Ike were soon booted. Maybe even unmasked as right-wing impersonators. Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin? (They sold out.) Ram Dass? Wavy Gravy? (You get the picture.) Go back to Walt Whitman? Peter Max. Phillip Glass. Ken Burns. Dennis Hopper. (Look them up, if you must.) Jimi Hendrix. Jerry Garcia, most likely. Definitely not Mick Jagger. Not Alan Alda, though he’s come to symbolize the soft, fuzzy male of sensibility bull. Jerry Brown? The governor turned mayor. Hunter Thompson, or any of those who rolled, paranoid, off the right-hand side of the bed? (The far-right side.)

Jesus! (Forget the free love and drugs, though.) Or the prophet Elijah, off talking to a raven.

Were we gullible! No, the hippie male remains frustratingly elusive. Just who would embody him?

Yes, this thing has turned grassroots. I keep seeing the photo of John Kerry, back from ‘Nam, turned angry antiwar spokesman. The one castigated for speaking truth from experience, despite paying the price otherwise demanded of war critics, while George W. Bush gets a free ride while doing all the despised things supposed hippies did then – the self-centered indolence, arrogance, spaced out existence. (Only “W” knows where he was through all this; he ran for cover, and even he won’t say where.) Maybe we are left with Cheech and Chong.


Richard Brautigan and Hilda Hoffman, in Edmund Shea's iconic cover photo from "In Watermelon Sugar."
Richard Brautigan and Hilda Hoffman, in Edmund Shea’s iconic cover photo from “In Watermelon Sugar.”

So what were the hippie chicks expecting? (Especially in an era of “Do your own thing.”) What was the connection, invoking explosive intensity in an already explosive atmosphere (drugs, the war, confrontation). Was it simple pleasure? Or something more serious, hoping there really was a future after a history of one-night stands? Or were carefree nights more realistic alternative to long-term commitment? Here we had all of the adolescent confusion of sexuality and love, on both sides of the equation. Some participants desired companionship; others, excitement and freedom. In the midst of it all came this infusion of Shakti energy, as the spiritual release of feminine power.

But was this really free love? What was hoped for in return? Were these males fit to be sufficiently satisfying partners or providers? Protectors? A refuge? Understanding? Most of the hippie guys weren’t. We came out of this with a confused slate of expectations, on both sides. Besides, all of the calculations shift once you begin having children.

In other words, the era ended as women insisted, “I’m not a chick.” Meaning, “I’m through with hippies.” No one had yet addressed the trap of masculinity here, but there was an awareness that something was missing. Eventually, Robert Bly would dissect the shortcomings in Iron John, lending his voice to those calling for an end to male passivity; just think of all the men getting together for an evening of drumming and renewal. There were earlier examinations, such as Herb Goldberg’s 1976 The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Male Privilege, which looked at many of the seemingly no-win dilemmas men find themselves facing. (Not just hippie men, either.)

The late ‘70s also saw the emergence of incurable genital herpes, followed by the outbreak of HIV and AIDS. Unlike crabs, clap, or the drip, these were forever. Penicillin and the Pill had opened only a grace period in the sexual revolution.

I remember hearing a friend come back from a singles mixer in the late ‘80s, where he overheard three women reacting to a man’s description of himself as an “incurable romantic” – “Sounds like a venereal disease,” they scoffed. Or the common identification of “walking wounded” in the aftermath. Or the “fifty-year-old flower child” who really needed to grow up.

If the hippie experience began with flight, we might ask, flight from what? Not just lives like those of their parents. The males, after all, were in flight from the military draft – a threat not facing the females. In later years, we would learn how many females, especially, were in flight from abusive households.

Flight, as in getting high. Getting away. All the same, coming back to earth at some point. The airy element, needing to become grounded, as in taking root for nourishment.

Sherry Vetter, in Edmund Shea's cover photo for Brautigan's "Revenge of the Lawn."
Sherry Vetter, in Edmund Shea’s cover photo for Brautigan’s “Revenge of the Lawn.”

I’ve wondered where everyone came from. It always seemed there was a much higher proportion of kids from the suburbs. Even when they came from a large city, they were more likely to be from Brooklyn or out in the Queens or even Staten Island than Manhattan. It’s just a lingering impression. There also seemed to be an uncommon number of children of lawyers or doctors, as well as a large number of “army brats” who had been dragged from base to base growing up.

It seemed, too, there was a disproportionate number of Jewish kids in the hippie circle. Not just the ones from the families of doctors and lawyers, either. I’ve wondered how much was a consequence of coming from a tradition that has required standing apart from the larger society, as a minority of choice, an action that also carries a critical identity and an aspiration for peace and justice.

Surprisingly, there were few from the Deep South. Maybe because there were few large cities, meaning fewer suburbs. Fewer academic enclaves of note. No major symphony orchestras, outside of Texas, or notable art museums, either. Maybe there was something in the Southern nature that was already laid back or sexually permissive. (Even visiting Quakers complained of their Southern relations, before the Civil War, while; historian David Hackett Fischer, detailing the predatory nature of the Virginia planter gentlemen, in Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, notes, “An old tidewater folk saying in Prince George’s County, Maryland, defined a virgin as a girl who could run faster than her uncle.”) By the time the hippie movement took root across the country, the South was already scarred and divided from the civil rights campaigns. In addition, it was more militarized than the rest of the country; it had a disproportionate number of military bases, as well as military careers. Its religion, too, was more likely to be emotional – Baptists and Pentecostals – than the versions to the north and west. (In the South, the Methodists were the pale alternative.) The Southern belle, in fact, stood as the antithesis of the hippie chick.

Nor were there many blacks in the hippie circle. Somehow the quest for economic advancement didn’t square well with the “tune out, drop out” laid-back hippie style. And back-to-the-earth philosophies could be troublesome for the grandchildren of sharecroppers who knew all too well the difficulties of farming.



Becoming a freak

The late ’60s were a turbulent time, especially on American college campuses. With an outbreak of antiwar protests, psychedelic drug use, and sexual liberation, there were many ways to become a hippie. Often it was by taking one step at a time. My novel Daffodil Sunrise tells how it happened in one circle on an out-of-the-way campus in Indiana. Little did anyone anticipate the consequences.

The novel is available in the ebook platform of your choice at Smashwords and other ebook retailers.


Off Grid Electric gets $7M to ‘light Africa in a decade’ (exclusive)

Although Xavier Helgesen is far from the hippie outbreak, his vision and approach certainly fit into the embrace of alternative ways to solve basic problems. “Small is beautiful,” after all, was a mantra of the hippie era … and solar is certainly a smaller-scale and much healthier approach to electrical energy than is nuclear power.

Looking for work

If looking for love was openly acknowledged as part of the hippie identity, looking for work was typically spoken of with a degree of embarrassment. Perhaps even a sense of failure, as if admitting that some necessity might intrude on a higher mission. “Yeah, I need a job. Something to carry me over.” Indeed, the consideration of economic dimensions within the movement might initially seem a stretch, at least if one is relying on a stereotype of hippie as slothful or hedonistic.

Yes, at the one extreme, there are the histories of the failed communes, with their unspoken expectations that someone else (possibly with an inherited trust or at least employable skills) would subsidize the venture. More common were the children still being supported, at least in part, by parents who were often professionals. And, yes, individuals were present, to whom the mention of work was anathema.

At the other extreme, I’ve seen hippies rally together wholeheartedly in work projects – sometimes difficult physical labor for extended periods, ones where skills and intricate knowledge were needed. Pulling the pipes and pump from a well, for instance, or hoisting an engine from a Volkswagen for repair. The sweatband was not just to hold back long hair.

The reality is that an entire spectrum of expectations, abilities, work ethics, and resources was involved. Many who showed up had no idea of how to use a broom or a hammer efficiently, no matter how much college education they had received. Others were proficient in the most amazing tasks. Some saw this as opportunity to try their hand at new undertakings, such as raising chickens or a garden. Others were simply freeloaders, leading everyone to the inevitable tragedy of the commons. Through it all, I was surprised to see how much I relied on things I’d learned in a Boy Scout troop that specialized in backpacking and primitive camping. The ability to use an ax could be a measure of much more – and someone who could sharpen it well could be trusted.

There was throughout it all an intrinsic conflict between a desire for independence and relying on someone else’s cash flow. We don’t have to go to a wilderness commune, like those girls who were later abandoned by indolent boyfriends or simply wised up. The consequences became evident in many ways and places. Any shared household had its share of difficulties – toilet paper was always a good indicator of how successfully things were or weren’t functioning, across the board. Just how many chores and responsibilities should you carry and what was equitable in the arrangement? No matter how you split up the rent, somebody always got the short end of the stick. Just how cool could you be with it?


The consideration of economics, then, leads straight into a thicket of contradictions regarding not just income but desires, possessions, relationships, and time. You had a Marxist, on one hand, and a small-is-beautiful entrepreneur, on the other, as well as future professors and professionals, small-time drug dealers, and rocker wannabes. Plus, it turned out, any number of con artists. Where did any of them expect to be ten years down the road?

The question wasn’t so much about work, then, as meaningful work. The movement had started out with a challenge to the Establishment, and a query of whether you could work within it without irreparably compromising your integrity. (Decades later, confirming what I’ve heard in countless conversations, Michael Lerner in The Left Hand of God tells of thousands of survey interviews where employees inevitably express their frustration and depression in the American workplace – especially the ways it runs counter to their deepest spiritual values; surprisingly, satisfaction has very little to do with how far up or down the corporate ladder you are, and everything to do with the dog-eat-dog mentality that rules.)

Recasting the concept into work, jobs, and chores, as the poet Donald Hall does, or the Real Work, as his colleague Gary Snyder has, or the Dedicated Laborious Quest, as I have on occasion, allows us to admit the meaninglessness of so much of what most of us do out of necessity for money while identifying the activities that give us the deepest sense of satisfaction and, possibly, social responsibility – that is, our individual, unique missions in life. The fact that individuals would willingly labor hard in a concerted effort toward meaningful goals was evident in some of the co-ops, weekly newspaper ventures, and spiritual communities – even where its “good karma” was sometimes shamelessly appropriated by self-serving gurus or businesspeople. “You owned this? How could you cash in? How could you sell out?” Beyond the bitterness of the betrayals, however, a promise and vision remains.

As a testament to the enduring scope of the hippie-influenced economics, one need only turn to the Whole Earth Catalog. The millennium edition, for instance, weighs in at 384 tabloid-sized pages and covers, well, a lot more marketing ground than any retail mall – this one rooted in sustainability, health, and global awareness. Here, in fact, the emphasis is on things to do, rather than buy.


And to think, this grew, in part, out of a reaction against Detroit’s planned obsolescence of the late 1950s and early ‘60s – a corporate death wish or suicidal impulse soon countered by the fuel-efficient, reliable, and affordable Volkswagen and its Japanese successors. (Think of Ralph Nader’s pioneering 1965 Unsafe at Any Speed.) A reaction, too, against the devastating effects of that corporate mindset in the workplace, where clandestine drug use was soon numbing the tedium, as Ben Hamper divulged in Rivethead: Tales From the Assembly Line. Or even against the increasingly assembly-line like classes of higher education, where many youths had headed in the promise of higher incomes; few found any intellectual stimulation in the business courses, and philosophy or literature were financial dead-ends. Sophomore slump could easily turn into a detour through the counterculture.

Looking back, I’m prone to lament that farmers’ markets are no match for Walmart, or that even the foreign-owned supermarket chains have expanded their organic food sections in an effort to muscle out their small but independent rivals. “Small is beautiful” enterprises, with their place for individual influence and impact, have been largely overrun by McDonald’s and Footlocker and global financial finagling, all eroding the sustainability of our own neighborhoods and any sense of real wages. The bank and newspaper are no longer locally owned but are instead managed from faraway, where the profits go. America is more militarized than ever, thanks to Reagan and the Bushes, at its own cost to the economy. Environmental and labor protections are being betrayed, as are First Amendment rights even as practiced by corporate mass media.

Yes, the status quo rises to reinstate itself, however blindly or dangerously. Which is another way of recognizing the necessity for nurturing guerrilla economics or applying money to prophetic ends. The tide and the pendulum both turn. And to that cause, much work remains.

My next 30 years…

Even though she’s way too young to have been part of the hippie outbreak, she encompasses a spiritual and lifestyle awareness some of us came to through our experiences and discoveries along the way. This is a side of the trip I feel needs to be celebrated and nurtured.

How Jesus and Yoga changed my life

My bible study this morning, instructed to ask the Holy Spirit to teach me a song he gives me. Well, I woke up this morning with “My next 30 years” playing in my head”. Does the Holy Spirit ever wake you up with a song?. It’s almost daily for me. This is year 43 for me, and as I looked at the lyrics of the song, I realized that I am already doing most of it! lol…I have been on a “who am I, and what am I doing here mission”, for over 7 years now. We aren’t promised tomorrow, I know that. I will see the good in everything, and everybody. If I were to die today, I want to have made a difference in so many people’s lives, that they have to rent out a stadium. Some might think it’s morbid that I think about how my funeral…

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Looking for God

To think, the quest was as much about religion (or spirituality, as we prefer to say) as it was about sex! Maybe more. Or maybe some combination of the two. At least for those who thought or hoped the hallucinations would open visions of God. The expectation of transcendence embodied in a drug trip, rather than simple numbing.

What many people did report from their drug experiments was their discovery of seeing everyday objects and activities in an intensified, even astonishing outlook. A flower or butterfly, for example, could be encompassed as a miraculous happening, overflowing with wonder. The distinction between the beholder and the object seemed to dissolve, replaced by a sense of unity with the universe, if only for the duration of the high. Still, there was something holy in these encounters, when they happened, no matter how artificial or counterfeit their means. (There were religious traditions that used the mushrooms and cacti in ritualistic settings, accompanied by human guides; and just what was the soma of the oldest Hindu scriptures?) Whatever shot you “up there” or “out there” was followed by return – sometimes painful and disorienting. There was also the distinct possibility of the bad trip, the one where devils instead of angels took control, or even the one ending in insanity or death. This wasn’t something to undertake too often, either; the journey depleted the brain’s chemical resources. There is also a basic dichotomy between seeking pleasure and seeking God, anyway – and few wanted anything but pleasure in the trip. (The journey itself a kind of hitchhiking, relying on the pill or the tab or the organic button for the ride; except here, there was no way to get out once you were under way.) When some people came down from a good trip, they had a sense of blessing, a recognition of divine promise quite different than the teachings of guilt and sin they carried.

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Into this came the teachers and gurus promising something better – a natural high. (Plus, it was legal.) They weren’t demanding a repetition of dry creeds or dogma. No lists beginning “thou shalt not.” This was not the faith of our fathers. (Or mothers.) Not the atheism or agnosticism or logical positivism of science, either – what could it say of love, for starters? No, there was something earthy here, as well as ethereal. Just look at the Mr. Natural comics, straight or stoned, he was goofy. The invasion of teachings and practices from Asia brought Tibetan and Zen Buddhism (Rinzai and Soto, if you wanted), Sufism, all kinds of Yoga, Taoism, Confucianism, Theosophists, followers of Krishnamurti, Gurdjieff, Ospensky. The Tibetan Book of the Dead showed up everywhere and spoke of drug-like trances. From Mexico and points south, the tales of Don Juan – drug-induced religious experiences. Shamans, East and West. And Native American spirituality, with its sweat lodges and dances. Pass the pipe. Ingest a bead or mushroom. Homegrown organizations, as well: Scientology, est, encounter groups. Take your pick. Astrology and tarot, too. (The unseen forces upon us.) How long before Wicca, Druids, or even Vikings showed up? This was a cornucopia, a kaleidoscope, a supermarket of possibilities. The imports and alternatives appealed because they were free of the constraints we typically associated with religion. Tantric sex, for instance. Turns out they were freed of many of the constraints of their own cultures, as well; a fatal seduction for many, in the end.

For now, there was a turning for inner peace. We weren’t making much headway on the political front, anyway. Everything there seemed to be stacked against us. Admittedly, not everyone was venturing off in this direction. Some were simply fading from the scene, beginning to raise families or pursue a career. Others were increasingly addicted to drugs. Still others were satisfied to remain wherever they were. But for the contingent trekking out into the spiritual teachings, what a variety! Some were detoxifying, purifying, fasting, meditating, chanting. The film over their eyes turned clear, the inner dirt was being swept away. Pursuing some of the traditions also meant giving up drugs, giving up sex, giving up meat and alcohol. You could see this as a revolution. Still, I’d say that this retreat into intentional spiritual communities – the ashrams, Zen temples, communal households – marked a turning point for the hippie experience. Even after the betrayals and failures, some timeless lessons remained. Somewhere in the pursuit of the promise of becoming godlike, powerful, enlightened, or wise would instead come a profound awareness of your own personal shortcomings (not that we would call them sins or temptations). What you encountered coming through that would make you more human. Even with all of the prohibitions, when Swami ordered us to shave off our beards, we were still advancing some crucial hippie values. Ahimsa. Compassion. Om shanthi. The extended family.

Indeed, what happened in the monastic life was a microcosm of the hippie sphere, good and bad. In the end, when I ponder what happened to the hippie explosion, I look to the same forces that first abetted and then faded on the ashram where I lived and studied.

Tibetan Prayer Flags Explained: What Does All That Sanskrit Writing Mean?

One of the things that became popular in the hippie outbreak was an awareness of Tibetan Buddhism. It seemed the Book of the Dead was everywhere. And then we discovered prayer flags, which have really proliferated.

Mexicali Blues Blog


Our traditional Tibetan prayer flags are inscribed with symbols and words that are said to carry prayers and hopes into the breeze and across the lands. If you’ve ever wondered what all that Sanskrit writing means, read on!

The words on the prayer flags are a combination of mantra, sutra, and prayer. They aren’t directly translatable into English, as each mantra is an expression of an intention, energy, and the vibration of the sound. You might say that their inner meanings are beyond words.

A mantra is a powerful word or set of words with the capacity of influencing certain dimensions of energy. It is said that the vibration of mantras can control the invisible energies that govern existence. It’s the sound and the utterance of it that is said to have those powers, even without thinking about or necessarily understanding exactly what it is you’re saying. Buddhist monks will…

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Om, sweet om

The pursuit of spiritual enlightenment in the hippie era is the subject of my novel Ashram. The story follows eight idealistic yoga students and their maverick leader through a day in their life together on a subsistence farm, a place they call an American ashram. Each one has a different reason for taking up the intense and often emotionally difficult practice, and each one is at a different level of attainment. As for their swami, she’s a gas.

Ashram is available in the ebook platform of your choice at Smashwords. Feel free to visit.


How Do I See My Life in 5 Years?

So much of what I see as the hippie movement — then and now — involves a quest for one’s Self and its fulfillment. Here’s a remarkable perspective.


My Idea of My New Authentic Self


I’ve always experimented with channeling my inner thoughts into the clothes I wear. In more recent days, it’s been no sense of style at all because it’s the last thing on my mind. Getting a futon bed to get my mattress off the floor would be a more immediate priority, or getting a job. Anyways, in 5 years time, I’d like to have invested a lot of my early 20s into self growth and an abundance of self love. I want to explore freely, without boundaries or expectations to anyone. The hippie lifestyle is very appealing to me, interacting with others who think in abstract ideas and speak and move positively. In my world, a relationship seems completely out of line for what I really want which is self absorption that translates into greater love for those around me, and unfiltered version of…

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