We were wide-eyed and innocent as doves though not wise as serpents, as the Bible would add.
We had room for exploration, certainly, and for some of us that included yoga or Zen. Hitchhiking was part of the scene, too. I touch on those in several of my novels.
I realize that in posing the question as “yogis,” I’m focusing on a corner of the hippie experience. The dream I’m thinking of is a better world for everyone, and not just a few who wanted to drop out altogether.
I don’t see that among today’s youth, who have good reason to be more cautious about the future. Besides, they’re shackled by college debt, an outrageous amount compared to their income realities.
But it’s not all economic. I’d say much of the current malaise is spiritual.
Without that element of hope and universal love, how can we possibly overcome the forces that are dividing and oppressing us?
As young yogis living at the Poconos Ashram in Pennsylvania, Bhakta and Jay made a pilgrimage to India in December 1973. It was Bhakta’s first trip to the source of the religious tradition and Jay’s second. Unlike many young American and European aspirants who moved to India to study with a guru, they were teaching and practicing on a rundown farm not far from New York City. Their daily encounters in the household they shared resembled much of what I describe in my novel YOGA BOOTCAMP.
My novel YOGA BOOTCAMP describes the events of being initiated into brahmacharya and being given the two strips of cloth cut from the guru’s robe as our new underwear, supposedly to restrain our male sexual impulses. As a bit of real-life evidence, here we are at the Poconos Ashram in Pennsylvania in mid-1972. The girls found it highly amusing, especially since we were all living under celibacy.
My novel Yoga Bootcamp stirs up more curiosity. Here are ten facts.
Number of yoga teachers in U.S.: 52,746 registered with Yoga Alliance in 2015.
Number of centers: 18,000.
Number of yoga practitioners in U.S.: 37 million.
Number over age 40: 14 million.
Percentage of women and men practicing yoga in U.S.: 72 percent versus 28 percent.
Amount spent on yoga classes, clothing, and gear: $16.8 billion.
Most popular reasons for practicing yoga: flexibility (61 percent); stress relief (56 percent); general fitness (49 percent); overall health (49 percent); physical fitness (44 percent).
The highest percentages of yoga practitioners: Found on the West Coast and Mid-Atlantic states (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). The lowest percentages are in New England, the Upper Midwest and Plains states, and the East South.
Circulation of Yoga Journal magazine: 375,000.
Turnover: Only 25 percent have been doing yoga for more than five years.
My novel YOGA BOOTCAMP describes group meditation as a central discipline in the daily life at Big Pumpkin’s ashram. As a real-life example, here’s a photo taken at the Poconos Ashram in mid-1972. I’m struck by how young we all look and the fact that most of us could sit in a full lotus position. Makes my knees hurt just thinking of it now!
When I first started to reflect on his, I was inclined to cite the obvious big forces – the superrich, their military-industrial-financial complex, and a host of similar drains on the common good. I’ll let Bernie Sanders carry that side of the argument for now.
Instead, I’m thinking of some of the themes that play out in my novels Daffodil Uprising and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
Individualism. The do-your-own-thing outlook had its upside, but it also dampened our ability to come together for sustained work toward shared goals. Ultimately, it lessened our common identity. Like Kenzie’s housemates at the farm, finding much common ground could be elusive.
Fuzzy goals. Knowing what we were against, often fueled by anger, was rarely balanced by knowing what we were for – nobody had a clear idea of how to go to the better world we sensed was possible. Lifting the draft, for instance, was only one step toward making a more peaceful world. And not wanting to have a marriage or a job like those our parents endured wasn’t the same as raising children in a new way or running a small-is-beautiful successful business.
Disrespect for labor. Yes, I know the “lazy hippie” slur, but I did see a lot of effort put forth, too. An expectation of something for nothing, though, had a divisive impact. Respect for labor also means knowing how to perform a job well and how to earn a livable wage. We were so naïve on so many fronts here.
Drugs. Admittedly, passing the pipe had a tribal quality, but too much simply removed an individual from action. In that sense, the rumors of CIA involvement in the importation of hard drugs as a way to blunt the peace movement begin to sound deviously rational. And LSD left a lot of wreckage.
Sexism and racism. It was there, one way or another. By the way, we didn’t see a lot of black hippies, did we? That in itself could be another topic of discussion.
Free love fallout. For many, it was fun while it lasted. Some even ended up in marriages that have lasted. For many, though, it led instead to betrayals, breakups, and bitterness – not exactly the ideal image when you define hippie as happy.
Irresponsibility. Think of the vanishing food from your shelf in the refrigerator or the things that got permanently borrowed without anyone asking. The list of examples will be long.
Aging. It was a youth movement, maybe the first generational tide in history. Geezer is not part of the definition of hippie – never has been, never will be. Besides, can we trust anyone under 30?
Violence. Few of us have turned out to be as consistently gentle as we’d like. Even if we never crossed over into physical hostility, we’ve likely been verbally wounding. Anyone else remember a few from back then who bought a gun – for self-defense, as they always argued? Especially if they were involved in dealing?
Global warming. I’m not kidding. This will completely thwart any Revolution of Peace & Love as everyone runs for the hills. Or tries to swim in the riptide.
Talk of pooling income and possessions thrived in the hippie era, though it rarely took form in practice – and, when it did, the results were often disastrous.
More common was the kind of shared rent arrangement like the farm I describe in my novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
Here are ten from American history. Utopian socialism was a common theme.
New Harmony, Indiana. Robert Owen, 1825-1829.
Oberlin Colony. Ohio, 1833-1843.
Fourier Society. Based on the ideas of French philosopher Charles Fourier, communes existed in New Jersey, 1841-1858; New York state, 1844-1846; Wisconsin, 1844-1850; Ohio, 1844-1845.
The Transcendentalists. Brook Farm, George and Sophia Ripley, 1841-1846, and Fruitlands, Amos Alcott, 1843-1844, both in Massachusetts.
Oneida Colony. John H. Noyes, New York state, 1848-1880. The first of a series of communes with radical ideas about free love and open marriage. (I love the name of one of those in Ohio, 1854-1858: Free Lovers at Davis House.)
Icarians. Followers of French philosopher Etienne Cabet established communes in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and California, 1848-1898.
Home, Washington. 1895-1919, based on an anarchist philosophy.
Twin Oaks. Virginia, 1967 to the present.
The Farm. Stephen Gaskin, Lewis County, Tennessee, 1971 to the present.
East Wind Community. Ozark County, Missouri, 1973 to the present.