Woodstock came as a surprise. Think of the timeline in 1969, an incredibly heady mix:
- June 28: Stonewall Inn riots mark beginning of gay rights movement.
- July 14: Easy Rider opens in U.S. movie theaters.
- July 20: Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.
- Aug. 9-10: The Charles Manson cult murders seven people in Los Angeles.
- Aug. 15–18: Woodstock festival overflows in Bethel in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
All in a month and a half! Something was erupting, on many fronts. A new world, good and bad.
Significantly, as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music,” Woodstock opened with an invocation by Swami Satchidananda – a nod to the Eastern spiritual alternatives to the predominant Judeo-Christian practices of the places the 500,000 concertgoers had come from. Yoga, especially, was hot, though the teachers were few.
My teacher sometimes spoke of the time she was approached by festival organizers curious about hosting it on the grounds of her ashram – the farmhouse and grounds of her yoga retreat. When she asked if drugs would be present and was told that they would, she closed the conversation. So much for history.
My novel, Ashram, reflects the intensity of the practice in that time and setting. The goal was life-changing; the daily engagement, difficult; the focus, on the everyday as much as the eternal.
Some who came to the real ashram, the one that inspired my novel, had been to Woodstock. Living where I did at that summer of ’69 and the following year, about 80 miles to the northwest, I knew many who had. What impresses me now is how their experiences and memories differed from the shocking headlines and news dispatches at the time – the amazement that so many freaks came out of the woodwork, undetected, in effect, according to the mass-media view, in contrast to the realization that we weren’t alone in a changing world.
My teacher had her own stories of Satchidananda, by the way. All of them good.
It was a special time, admittedly. Not always easy, either, but full of opportunity and hope. Events that live on.
For my novel, click here.