I’ve been reading a new book recently, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner. Having lived within the chronological and experiential realms of said culture, I have a greater-than-casual interest in it, and its cascading social effects. In the memory banks of this book you meet professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert at Harvard University, and their 1961-62 psych-lab experimentation with human consciousness, spiritual dimensions and LSD. It didn’t take long for the experiment to “go viral”, and what started as a small group of academic true-believers quickly morphed into a generation of psychonauts using psychoactive substances and dreaming into universal oneness, planetary peace, and political progress. People came together and pretty soon co-ops and communes emerged like magic mushrooms out in the country and deep in the city, challenging and redefining established notions of personal style, family, gender-roles, economic relations, service, citizenship-—in short, normalcy. Celebrational festivals got people dancing to the rhythms & rhymes of tuned-in, turned-on rock&roll. Human rights and individual empowerment eventually overwhelmed the oppressive order-of-the-day that demanded obedience to the conventional, and over the next decade, the hype & hubris of authoritarian power structures were eventually laughed out of town like a naked emperor, along with the insane war-du-jour, Viet Nam. The 60s pretty much blew everybody’s mind.
The dance continued. 40 years ago, Richard Alpert (known as Ram Dass by then) authored the 1970 generational manifesto Be Here Now. His long strange trip had taken him from acid-induced altered states to the bhakti path of unconditional love.
In my own dance, I have been fortunate to meet and befriend both Tim Leary and Ram Dass, and RD has been a consistent friend and teacher here at Breitenbush since 1981. I recently interviewed Ram Dass at his home in Maui for Alternatives Magazine, and I asked him to reflect on earlier Breitenbush experiences. Following are a few of those reflections.
“Former visits to Breitenbush? Wow. The ramp into my cabin after the stroke … that was really good. And then, I was very impressed with the community. They were … very welcoming. And Oh, the Old Growth. Oh my God. The walk up to the Old Growth. Wow. And the food was good. And the river. Ahhh, the river … Ohh that river … You know, it’s so impressive. The smell of the trees. Oh Yeah. And the round cabin for special meetings … Oh Boy. And then … I’m just luxuriating in memory of that place. I think everybody was at their best, spiritually and psychologically, when they were on the property … You know, I’m feeling closest to God when I am in nature, and you don’t contaminate it with human mind. Breitenbush does the least of that. Breitenbush puts nature first.”
Cool. The Breitenbush Community was one of a myriad social experiments that emerged out of the practical, and sometimes crazy, idealism that arose from the psychedelic culture that was kicked off 50 years ago at Harvard. And we’re still going, all these years later. And so is Ram Dass.
We’re planning a Be Here Now 40-Years Retrospective Celebration at Breitenbush, December 2nd—5th, and, thanks to the miracle of modern technology and interactive software, Ram Dass will be participating in real-time satsang with us from his home on Maui. If you’re interested, contact our office. I’ll be there then.