Elliott’s Writings: The Vision of a Generation
There was a terrible war raging in Vietnam in the Sixties. We, the Woodstock Generation, knew it was wrong and fought against it. We didn’t care what the social penalties were – we stood our ground and said, “No, this is wrong. I love my country and will not participate in this immoral action which destroys the principles our country was built on.”
At the same time, music was reaching us. It got us so excited that we felt a deep part of ourselves which we had not been in touch with before. It was wild, and its wildness freed us from cultural restraints, from the uptightness that habits place on a human being. So people were free to be naked in public, to talk about having sex, to smoke grass openly with friends, take acid, have long hair, dress any way they chose, to experiment and explore life freely.
I was a young photographer looking for a way to publish my work. I was a human being, hurt and injured by the injustice of the war. I was a person who smoked grass occasionally and loved to listen to music. When I was stoned, I always wanted to take pictures. I combined all these elements into an attempt to make my life good. I wanted to earn money, make beautiful pictures, listen to music, and help the world.
Everything seemed to be changing. Established ideas and institutions, in every sphere, were being challenged. It seemed like the world was about to change profoundly because people would not be able to go on living the way they had been. It was a time of hope.
The frontiers of consciousness were being expanded. We were exposed to Eastern philosophy, metaphysical books, psychedelics, rock music, and grass.
Rock concerts were rites of passage, where people came to be together, to see the bands, and to get high from the music, the dance, and the drugs. The goal was to transcend the mundane vision of everyday life by reaching an ecstatic state. We were unknowingly using methods similar to those found in the traditions of indigenous peoples throughout history.
Pop music had not yet become an international business and cultural phenomenon. Rock ‘n’ Roll was outside the norm of society, part of the “underground” culture, and to be involved with it made you an outsider. A new group of people who believed in alternatives to the American Way of Life was galvanized by this new, free form of raucous music. A world of hippies, drugs, free love, metaphysics, and political activism was born.
The musicians themselves could as easily have been members of the audience as performers onstage, and often they did mingle with the crowds after the show. There was a true feeling of solidarity, a unity of purpose, and the purpose was to change the world. We want the world, and we want it NOW! was the anthem sung by Jim Morrison. We thought that the freedom to behave as we wished, coupled with the power of music to liberate the soul, would emancipate the world.
The Sixties were about trying to discover the truth about everything and trying to live that truth in life. Discovering your inner self, and being true to it. Doing what you really wanted to do, and trusting that if you did the right thing, “your way” would be in alignment with The Way, (as in the ancient Chinese text The Way of Life) and the universe would support you by making the right things happen for you. People tried to earn the money they needed from “work” they loved.
The Sixties were also about looking for happiness and trying to create perfection and justice for everyone on the planet. For the first time a mass culture saw itself as totally interconnected to all other beings and began to take on a global rather than a local responsibility. The tools we used were love, freedom, spirituality, music, and action. We demanded freedoms long held to be taboo-to have sex at will, to use consciousness-expanding substances-and we actively tried to change the establishment through righteous, inspired action.
A lot of other things changed as well. Before the Sixties, men had short hair and crew cuts and wore business suits and ties. Social conformity prevented them from wearing frilly shirts and earrings. But the Sixties emancipated men’s creative and feminine side. Freedom replaced formality. Men not only let their hair and beards grow and put on more colorful clothes, they also smiled more lovingly and became more accepting of others. So many people were naked that men began to accept real women’s bodies instead of focusing on Playboy fantasies. They concentrated more on feelings and emotions than on physical satisfaction-something only women had done before. Women and men became better friends. Instead of guys just hanging out together, talking dirty, and harassing women, a new situation arose: men and women hung out together, smoked dope, had sex, and listened to rock ‘n’ roll. A communal experience was born. Men began cooking and taking care of children, while women got into rock ‘n’ roll.
Thus the education and upbringing of children began to change. Children were carried around with their parents, brought to parties, and learned to sleep in a car. Home was any place where the road stopped. Children no longer stayed home with baby-sitters; parents started, more and more, to bring their kids with them, and the kids were much better off.
Drugs were a part of that interconnectedness, but they were light, nonaddicting, consciousness-raising natural herbs, which helped us attain higher states. Unlike hyperaggressive drugs, such as cocaine, they made us more mellow, more loving, more sensitive, and more open.
Grass was special – you shared it. We had been taught to keep our possessions to ourselves, but when you smoked grass, you offered it to whoever happened to be nearby, whether you were in the street or at a rock concert. Being “high” opened people up to themselves and to others. Smoking was a communal activity and often created an instant bonding, even if it sometimes lasted only a short time.
Since you were more mellow when you were “high,” you were able to listen and to perceive more. You could really ‘get into another person’s trip,’ sit and play with a baby for hours, or “see” a flower for what seemed like the first time. In some ways drugs worked similarly to meditation, reducing the perceptual blocks and illusions of separateness we learned from our Western cultural upbringing.
One of the main visions which permeated the Sixties culture was of the brotherhood of man. Many people were initially able to perceive this truth because of grass and other consciousness-enhancing drugs.
The Woodstock Generation rediscovered many ancient spiritual truths and gave the contemporary world an alternative vision for living -to be loving, gentle, and open all the time. Drugs were a window to that vision, but there was a price to pay. When drugs are used to reach the highs, one is less capable of dealing graciously with the lows and responds negatively to situations that could be handled better. Reactions such as anger, depression, physical depletion, and dependency are common. The ultimate goal is to be able to experience and enjoy life: the freedom and the ecstasy of being in a loving state of mind, and the strength to experience the difficulties without being upset, uptight, or anxious.
Now we realize that we must reach that state, not through harmful chemicals, but through meditation and inner spiritual commitment to joy and love, coupled with the hard work of getting through life while maintaining our integrity.
We hoped to leave the existing society behind and do our own thing-find our own truths and way of life. The Sixties culture called for a rejection of material and traditional comforts. We no longer needed beds to sleep in. The floor and a mat would do. Insurance plans, new cars, new clothes, traditional ceremonies, nine-to-five jobs, meaningless work done just to pay the bills-all were questioned and discarded.
What was important was to get high, to feel yourself, to become one with the spiritual forces in the universe, to communicate with our fellow man. So what if we lived in houses that would never be ours, drove cars that were falling apart, wore clothes that were used when we got them? As long as we shared what we had with each other, we would be all right. We felt we could live a nomadic, transient life as long as we were loving and generous.
We also thought meaningless middle-class values would disappear. Little did we realize then that in every historical phase there is a dialectic in which first one, then an opposite action predominates, followed by a synthesis of the two.
The yuppies of the Eighties, with their total focus on material wealth and meaningless status symbols, were a reaction to the drop-out, turn-on, tune-in hippie culture of the Sixties.
The energy created during that time is still with us, slowly influencing us more and more. It has evolved into what is today called New Age thought.
The inheritors of “Woodstock” are not only the tie-dyed young people we see at concerts, but also the healers, the spiritual practitioners, and the activists who support the diversity of planetary life-forms. Many young people are intuitively drawn to the Woodstock era, feeling a closeness they don’t yet fully understand while taking inspiration from its lifestyles.
Perhaps the Nineties will be a time of synthesis for the two ways of thinking and being, for balancing a spiritual awareness of our place in the universe with an ability to work toward making physical life on this planet more pleasant for everyone. What we of the Sixties generation have learned is that the material part of life is important as well. As the I Ching says, the ultimate manifestation of Heaven is on Earth.