Summer of Love

Posted on in On Our Radar by Wes Nisker

An Ode to the Hippies


Brothers and sisters, lovers and friends, are you hip yet? Can you dig it? If not, just put some flowers in your hair and some flowers in your pipe, and suddenly we are in San Francisco during one of those dreamy summers of love, 1967 or 1968, and you have started the day with a toke or two, and now you’re heading toward the park to see what’s happening, and you’re groovin’ on the scene as a Volkswagen van full of laughing hippies drives by with “Sergeant Pepper” blasting away on the radio, and suddenly you can’t decide whether to spend the day trying to save the world or just savor the world, and so you have another toke. I’m just trying to remember what it was like 50-some years ago, when the world was young.

Our magical mystery tour really begins just after World War II, when the baby boom began and America became a superpower, taking over the former European colonies with television and Coca-Cola and dreams too rich to ever be fulfilled. It was an America where the cars had started to grow fins, and the terrorists were called communists, and the American dream was just starting to put everyone to sleep.

And in the heart of the new empire, a bunch of young rogues and visionaries began to articulate a different sensibility—a counterculture—a movement that drew on the ideas of European dada and existentialism, a movement that turned toward the East, to the Tao, to the Buddha, to the Jai Jai Ram—a movement fueled by the drumbeats of essential Africa that found its American voice in the musical forms of jazz and rock-and-roll and in the writings of the beatniks.

It was the gang of Jack Kerouac, burst upon the scene, mad to live, and to dig every note in the great riff of life, driven along the road by the crazy looping solos of Charlie Parker. And for anyone like myself who had always felt like an outsider in America, it was a thrill to read Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl,” written way back in 1955, in which he denounces the god of war and commerce that had already begun to take over the soul of our nation. He named that god Moloch: “Moloch the loveless! Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!”

girl and red heart

But the beatniks were really romantics and mystics at heart. As Ginsberg said, they were “beatifically beat,” searching for what Kerouac called “the golden eternity.” And in their travels they saw the light come shining down from the East, and soon they started introducing strange new words into the hipster’s jive—words like karma and dharma and mantra and Tantra. And it all sounded so exotic that I finally decided to come to San Francisco to become a beatnik. But it was 1967—too late to make the scene, man. So I got assigned to the hippies instead. And I am proud to say, “I was a hippie!” Can I get a witness?!

The hippies were idealistic, optimistic . . . flower children.

We dragged bohemia out of the dark bars and coffeehouses for a few brief years of colorful frolicking in the sun, celebrating the Age of Aquarius—always accompanied by the ecstatic wail of electric guitars. And I was one of those flower children, walking around in tiedye and sporting a wild-looking Jewfro. And I was one of those who spent a lot of my time in the late sixties experimenting with consciousness. Yes, by ingesting illegal substances, and also through meditation, yoga, and the new psychologies of gestalt and breathwork.

And I was part of that grand conspiracy of young people who—at least for a few years—refused to join the “straights” and their consumer economy, known to us as “the system.” We rejected the old-world mentality of our parents, with their Depression-era fears of scarcity and war, and their uptight puritan morality. Instead, we sought a new consciousness—one that could celebrate life and sexuality, tune into nature, and embrace all the world as one.

Okay, so maybe we were a little naïve. Or maybe we just had it too good. As the psychologist Paul Goodman wrote in his famous book Growing Up Absurd: “It was destined that the children of affluence, who grew up without toilet training, and freely masturbating, would turn out to be daring, disobedient, and simpleminded.”

So maybe that’s why we started chanting, “We want the world and we want it now!” We were poorly potty-trained . . . and prone to tantrums!

But we were trying to create a better world and trying to stop our government from conducting a criminal, horrific war. And we held some great protests like the 1967 March on Washington, when we caused the Pentagon to levitate. That’s right. We just surrounded the building and chanted Om, and up it went. On that day we were super-hippies.

But at heart, the hippies weren’t very political. We had no analysis or five-year plan. Instead, our revolution was expressed in gatherings known as be-in’s, communal celebrations of just “being.” Here’s the San Francisco Oracle—a Haight-Ashbury journal—announcing back in 1967 that the first “human be-in” would take place in Golden Gate Park: “The spiritual revolution will be manifest and proven. We will shower the nation with waves of ecstasy and purification. Fear will be washed away. Ignorance exposed to sunlight. Profits and Empire will lie drying on deserted beaches.”

Yes, it was a spiritual revolution! And if the hippies have a legacy, it’s in the yoga and meditation centers now existing in every town in America. And it’s also in the modern environmental movement that got its start in the late sixties with back-to-the-land visions of eco-topia . . . plus a Whole Earth Catalog of appropriate technologies that are now becoming necessary for our survival.

The hippies were right, and still right on! It’s time to scale down and simplify. It is time to re-create community, celebrate existence, and make a whole new world—full of peace, love, and good vibes.

So, in honor of the hippie legacy, I propose that somewhere—maybe on the mall in Washington, DC—there should be a statue erected to the “Unknown Hippie.” People could visit and leave old buttons, beads, flowers, and joints.

And however you feel about the hippies to day, you’ve got to admit that we sure could use a summer of love in America, and in San Francisco. Right now. So go ahead, turn off that isolating computer with its flashing Big Brother Brain, keeping you hyper-busy and distracted, and just go out into the streets and start talking to people about life, or how to end all the disgusting wars. Go to the park and just sit down and feel the earth like the hippies used to do, and then vow to do everything you can to see that our little biosphere project continues on this planet—this awesome experiment in life and consciousness. And then, brothers and sisters, even if its just for a few hours, banish your sorrow over what is happening to the world, let go of the fear and greed, and have yourself a be-in. Celebrate life and the mystery of it all. Celebrate another summer of love.

And, as always, if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.

Wes ”Scoop” Nisker is a teacher of Buddhist meditation, an author, radio commentator, and performer. His books include the under ground classic Essential Crazy Wisdom, Buddha’s Nature, and You Are Not Your Fault! Wes is an affiliate teacher at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center and offers regular workshops at Esalen Institute and other venues internationally.

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