Body, Soul, Nature:
How the Summer of Love Revolutionized Our Notions of Health, Happiness and Community

The sixties were synonymous with Mad Men martinis, chain-smoking housewives, and LSD-popping dropouts. Or were they? Not quite: It was also during this era that the hippie movement began a revolution that radically changed our ideas about health, happiness, and unity with nature – and it continues to impact mainstream society today. With workshops on meditation, dance, and nutrition, literary evenings, as well as talks on ecology, art, and activism, the program accompanying the summer of love exhibition at the PalaisPopulaire brings the vitality of this era to life.
It is paradoxical: In the highly developed industrial nations, which are concerned with constantly increasing the gross national product, "prosperity" no longer seems as desirable as it was before the turn of the millennium. While money and material values are becoming more and more important for the losers of globalization, who simply cannot afford to think about their inner feelings, in the rich nations more and more people are trying to find answers to the question of the meaning of life, of what quality of life really means. Instead of dropping out completely, as the hippies did in the 1960s, many people today are looking for a compromise, for the right "work-life balance" for possibilities to escape stress and competition for a little while. But it is not just a matter of taking a break to be able to function again. Rather, the idea of holism, of the union of body, soul, and spirit is in the foreground, the need for organic, ecologically justifiable nutrition and mindfulness.

Almost everything we practice today in order to get in touch with ourselves, to come out of our ego, to open ourselves to the transcendent or other people, to live in harmony with nature, was cultivated by the hippies decades ago. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to San Francisco during the Summer of Love in 1967. At gigantic happenings, they not only danced to the psychedelic rock of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, but also listened to the beat poet and activist Allen Ginsberg, who was intensively involved with Tibetan Buddhism and the Krishna movement, and to Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center.

In the context of the summer of love exhibition at the PalaisPopulaire, Zen teacher Bernd Bender, who was trained at the San Francisco Zen Center, will introduce meditation, mindfulness training, and Zen practice. For good reason: The hippie movement was first and foremost a spiritual movement. At a time of rapidly advancing industrialization and the Vietnam War, it was directed against the leaden mood of the postwar era, against morbid Mad Men materialism, and against Ayn Rand's Social Darwinism, which saw self-realization as the harbinger of neoliberalism only as the egoistic right of the fittest. As in the European modernism of the dawning twentieth century, the gaze turned to the East. While artists and writers like Hermann Hesse and the Bauhaus architects had found inspiration in the Asian culture and philosophy of their day, the children of the McCarthy era now moved with their backpacks on the "hippie trail." They traveled thousands of miles via Istanbul to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and India, where Ginsberg had already moved in 1962. The Beatles triggered a veritable boom in India in 1968 when they spent months at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, in Rishikesh.

Visitors from the West not only brought black “Black Afghan” Hash , opium, and patchouli back from their journey , but also a version of East Asian religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Hare Krishna movement, adapted for the West. Zen Buddhism was on the rise in the USA due, among other things, to the fact that soldiers in Vietnam came into contact with it for the first time. An atheistic religion, which postulated mindfulness, eschewal of materialism, and unconditional love, was a liberating alternative for the hippies. Not only to the lifestyle of the establishment, but also to conservative Christianity, which dominated U.S. society with rigid moral notions of the nuclear family. But already in the 1960s it was clear that this was anything but esoteric escapism . Buddhist practice was associated not only with a comprehensive meditation regimen, but also with responsible, compassionate action. Especially in Vietnam a kind of politically engaged Buddhism developed. The photo of a monk who immolated himself on a street in Saigon in 1963 in protest against the war went around the world. One of the most important Buddhist teachers to this day, the Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, wrote a public letter to Martin Luther King in 1965 in which he described the situation in Vietnam and asked King to comment on the war. The two met in 1966. At the beginning of 1967, Martin Luther King nominated Thích Nhất Hạnh for the Nobel Peace Prize and took a public stand against the Vietnam War.

The hippies’ withdrawal from mainstream American society was not only a political consequence of the war. It also had to do with the search for lost idealism. Instead of soldiers, the hippies wanted to be enthusiasts, romantics, and utopians. They found inspiration in the ideas of preceding generations. There was the British poet, painter, and nature mystic William Blake (1757-1827), the epitome of the outsider and visionary, who had vehemently criticized the materialism of his contemporaries. In the 1960s, Hermann Hesse's books became bestsellers, above all his socio-critical novel Steppenwolf, which came out in 1927, and Siddhartha, published in 1922, the story of a young Brahmin who sets out in search of "Atman," the "All-One" that is in every human being. The hippies also revived the fathers of American democracy, including the writers and philosophers Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. All three were followers of transcendentalism, which combined influences of the German Enlightenment and British Romanticism with mystical ideas and Indian philosophy. The transcendentalists advocated a free, autonomous, natural way of life. They provided essential impetus for the liberation of slaves, the emergence of the women's movement, and the conservation movement. Thoreau, in particular, was a great inspiration. In 1845, he withdrew for two years to Walden Pond near Concord in New England in a self-built log cabin, where he lived self-sufficiently and with the lowest possible expenses. He published his book Walden; or Life in the Woods, in which he meticulously recorded his simple life and wrote essays on topics ranging from economics to community. The book became a Bible for the burgeoning rural hippie communes , who practiced subsistence farming. In 1849, after being imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes, Thoreau published another work that was immensely important for the demonstrations and sit-ins of the 1960s: his famous essay On Civil Disobedience. The pamphlet served Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, among others, as a source of inspiration for conscientious, non-violent resistance against the authorities and is to this day a standard work of civil disobedience.

But the hippie movement was not so politicized before 1968. Rather, it adhered to the romantic idea of a classless, original society, in which anyone can be an eccentric nobleman, a bohemian, or a pioneer that makes a new start. At the same time, the ornaments of Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement adapted by the hippies evoked a return to nature, craftsmanship, and originality. For most, the journey led inward – through The Doors of Perception, as an essay by British writer Aldous Huxley, published in 1954, was titled, describing his intense drug experiences. The Doors of Perception inspired Jim Morrison so much that he named his band The Doors after it. As they were for Morrison, mind-expanding drugs were also part of the hippies’ spiritual experiences and self-explorations. In 1968, a book appeared that anchored this thinking in mainstream society: Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, which, along with its sequels, would become an international bestseller. The ethnologist tells how during his studies of the Yaqui Indians in Mexico he met the shaman" Don Juan Matus", who provided him with a radically different view of reality through the use of medicinal herbs and peyote rituals. In 1973, however, it came to an academic scandal. Investigative journalist Richard de Mille revealed that Don Juan Matus was a pure invention

The return to originality of the hippies in the USA was accompanied bya turn to the mysticism and the rituals of the Native Americans. This was not only due to the fact that they were looking for a primeval American alternative as an antithesis to Far Eastern religions. The spiritual practices of North American Indian tribes were also connected with nature and the credo of community. In their ritual dances they sanctified the spirits of their ancestors and Mother Earth. The idea of owning land was completely incomprehensible to them. In the 1960s, the situation of Native Americans in reservations was desperate and hopeless. During this period, the American Indian Movement was formed, a civil rights movement that became known for its militant actions. In 1973, members of the movement occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where the U.S. Army had massacred 300 Lakota Indians in 1890, and took hostages. In 1970, Dee Brown's bestseller Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee had been published, which led to broad societal debates. The hippies’ idealization of Native American culture manifested itself in the adoption of shamanic rituals and dances, and the construction of sweat lodges and tipis. In addition, feather jewelry appeared increasingly at festivals and remained a pop cultural symbol of alternative culture and drug consumption from the disco era to Jamiroquai. Until the 1970s, a poster bearing a historical photo of an Indian tribal leader, such as Sitting Bull, was hung in every apartment-sharing community, quoting an aphorism that railed against the destruction of the earth and the oppression of indigenous peoples.  

The well-intended attempt by white middle-class Americans to "learn from Native Americans" often lacked realism and political commitment. Interest was often focused on alternative healing practices, self-awareness, and experimental drug experiences. The hippie trail was strewn with drugs, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many of the hippies coupled meditation and yoga with the use of LSD to enhance their mind-expanding experience – contrary to the advice of their Indian gurus, who saw drugs as an impediment to spiritual growth and prohibited their use. But many of the young dropouts were not interested in the implications.

The cliché of the hippie is inextricably intertwined with fashion phenomena of this time: incense sticks, colorful clothing, Indian music and art, yoga, and meditation. Newspapers and magazines were full of caricatures that made fun of this lifestyle, viewing it as escapist and depoliticized. While many companies today offer yoga classes at the workplace, the opening of a yoga studio in San Francisco in the 1960s still had an exotic touch. Equally suspicious was the establishment of retreat centers, Buddhist monasteries, and alternative clinics that ushered in a new holistic approach to medicine. If it weren’t for the hippies, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and naturopathy would not be so popular today. Nor would the link between dance, bodywork, and spiritual rituals, which began in the sixties and is now deployed in innumerable self-awareness workshops. The Conscious Dance Workshop at the PalaisPopulaire is rooted in this tradition and introduces people to the 5Rhythms method – a movement meditation practice that amalgamates influences of shamanism, Eastern philosophy, and gestalt therapy.

Completely new in the 1960s were the vegetarian nutritional and healing philosophies that hippies brought from Asia and adapted for the West, including Ayurveda and macrobiotics. While today it is a completely normal expression of "self-care" to cook Ayurvedic meals or go to an Ayurvedic clinic, back then ordinary people and health authorities were up in arms about this alternative diet, regarding the renunciation of meat as harmful to health. Organic farming was also seen as an eccentric hobby.

In satires and caricatures, hippies were often portrayed munching granola and brown rice. But they were the pioneers of modern nutrition – with an astonishingly wide range of products and a cuisine that today is appreciated by hipsters and propagated in women's magazines. Tofu, , kombucha tea, quinoa, sprouts – if it weren’t for the hippie movement, all of these products would not be found in supermarkets today. At the PalaisPopulaire, this can be experienced firsthand in October at the Zen + Food workshop, where a monastic meal in the Zen Oryoki tradition will be taken after a joint meditation.

What excited the masses most about the hippie movement at the time, however, was the rejection of marriage and the traditional two-person relationship. Back then, this was referred to as "free love." And just as debates about "polyamory" fill the opinion pages of magazines today, so too did the notion of changing sex partners and hippie communes trigger an enormous media echo at the time, culminating in the proclamation of the "sexual revolution" at the end of the 1960s. The path that pioneers such as Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich had paved in the modern era, as well as the Kinsey reports and studies by Masters and Johnson in the 1950s, developed in the 1970s into a highway of sexual liberation, which subsequently reached every average household in the West during the so-called sex wave. Suddenly, suppressed longings, practices, and relationship models were discussed. But if one looks at the depictions in so-called "sex films" of the time, including Candy (1968), featuring such stars as Marlon Brando, Ringo Starr, and Richard Burton, the figure of the slightly naïve and promiscuous "hippie girl" serves only to satisfy normal male fantasies.

In fact, the hippie movement would fail not least due to its hedonism and escapism. It ended in the late 1960s. Not only because it increasingly was watered down into a lifestyle, but also because of increasing problems with drugs and physical and sexual violence. In her famous essay Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1967), Joan Didion described neglect in the Haight-Ashbury hippie neighborhood, and also wrote about preschool children who were given LSD by their parents. The problems in San Francisco, which was overrun by dropouts, became so bad that the main hippie newspaper, San Francisco Oracle, advised anyone who wanted to come to the city to forget about putting "flowers in their hair" and instead bring a sleeping bag, money, and warm clothes. The murders of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson Family in 1969, the outbreaks of violence, and the killing of an eighteen-year-old by the Hells Angels at a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont that same year marked the end of this peaceful revolution in the eyes of the outside world.

For a long time, it seemed that no one really wanted this culture back, but in recent years the hippie style has become a phenomenon again. In 2017, the Guardian newspaper published a column about the neo-hippie revival titled The hippy is back: not so cool if you remember it the first time round. In the article, traumatized children of hippies complain about the bigotry and egoism of their parents, about having a youth that could be straight out of the film Captain Fantastic, in which Viggo Mortensen, like Thoreau, educates his family to live autonomously far away from civilization, and in the process loses contact with social reality.

But in view of climate change and growing social inequality, one has to ask oneself whether such thinking is actually so out of touch with reality. In the protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, for example, it became apparent that the question of saving the earth is still associated with spirituality and community today. The Native Americans’ resistance at Standing Rock not only led to the founding of one of the biggest environmental movements of the 2000s in the USA, but also mobilized the largest gathering of Native Americans since 1920. The hippies’ holistic vision, their longing for community and social change, seem more relevant today than ever. Living a life in harmony with nature, protecting "Mother Earth," which for the movement was inextricably linked with the utopia of a fairer and more humane society, is also a key issue for today's activists. More and more people want to drop out of a system that is destroying the planet. If, unlike in the 1960s, it were possible to combine this utopia with a more consistent political perspective, the hippies’ thinking could be trendsetting.      

summer of love:
art, fashion, and rock and roll

Until October 28, 2019
PalaisPopulaire

More information about the accompanying program can be found at palaispopulaire.de