January 14, 1967.
Counterculture icon, Timothy Leary, stands before a free-loving gathering of some 30,000 hippies.
They’ve come to San Francisco to attend the legendary Human Be-In, on a quest to explore a different approach to, well, everything. A few month’s later, some 100,000 will reconvene in Haight-Ashbury for what will become known as the famed Summer of Love.
When Leary takes the mic in January, he implores his band of consciousness explorers to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” He has offered this same phrase in a talk given in New York City a few months earlier, and self-titled a philosophical album around it. But, here in the crowd, it takes on it’s own life becomes a rally-cry for a generation.
Mainstream America, at the time fueled by a largely culturally conservative ethos, attacks the phrase, ignoring the deeper exploration of connection and consciousness, and instead labels it a reckless, valueless call to drugs. In no small part, because it’s easier to focus on the psychedelics, long hair and weird clothes than the endemic, existential unrest that’s been fermenting under a gloss of “everything’s okay” for decades.
Everything, in fact, is not okay. And, the real energy behind the movement, the bigger provocation comes from a reckoning of this fact. An awakening to a bigger commitment to step outside “the box,” and explore what it really means to be alive. To make meaning and love. To contribute to society on a level beyond just personal gain. That is what really drove Leary and many others in the counterculture hippie revolution.
The psychedelics were a tool for the consciousness crusaders and a convenient flashpoint for those who preferred not to have mainstream culture’s boat rocked. More than 15 years later, Leary speaks to this misinterpretation in his autobiography, Flashback:
“Turn on” meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. “Tune in” meant interact harmoniously with the world around you – externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. “Drop out” suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. “Drop Out” meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean “Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity.”
Truth is, I’m not all that interested in going down the psychedelic wormhole. What does interest me, though, is the bigger idea behind Leary’s words. Turn on, tune in, drop out. And, I wonder if they’re as relevant today as they were then. Maybe more.
We live life at a maniacally fast pace. Head’s down, success-minded, massively-reactive and disconnected. Room to breathe, space to think and moments to feel, largely the stuff of dreamers and somedays. We’re so caught up in leaning in, winding up and getting ahead, that we’ve lost the grace of stepping back, winding down and realizing that so much of what we aspire to acquire and become is and, has always been, right here in front of us. Right here inside of us. Right here beside us. If we’d only pause long enough to see it. Feel it. Be it.
This year celebrates the 50-year anniversary of the Human Be-In and the Summer of Love.
Fifty years. That’s my lifetime, plus one.
In that half a century, surely we’ve progressed. Science, medicine, technology have seen unfathomable discoveries. In many ways, the world is a better place because of this. But, in so many other ways, we’re still mired in the very same existential throes of ’67.
We continue to seek a deeper sense of meaning and connection, both with ourselves and each other. We yearn for purpose and possibility, for the time and space to just be a Human Be-In. We look for permission, for moments and opportunities to, as Leary invited, “turn on” our emotional, spiritual and experiential lives. To tune in to the vastness, the humanity, the beauty and lightness of life. And, to drop out of a state of mindless, autopilot compliance with norms, rules, expectations and constraints that serve not to uplift, expand, create and connect, but to suppress, contract, consume and isolate.
That very same yearning. To create moments that allow us step outside our everyday life and ask the bigger questions. To surround ourselves with people we cannot get enough of, and around whom we cannot feel judged. To feel breathed by purpose, moved by intention and fueled by expression. To step outside the frenetic, disembodied fray long enough to, once again, feel the beat of our own heart, the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and the laughter in our souls. To breathe again. To feel again. To be alive. Again.
For some four years now, my Good Life Project family and I have been gathering a global community for 3 1/2 days of learning and celebration. Every summer, like clockwork, people get on planes, trains, buses and cars from all over the world to converge on a beautiful sleepaway camp 90-minutes from Manhattan. This year, some 400+ “GLeePers” will join us. I’ve been asked many times, “what exactly IS Camp GLP?” I’ve never really had a great answer. It’s one of those “you’ve got to experience it to know it” things.
But, on this 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, I think I’ve finally figured it out. It’s our Summer of Love, sans drugs. Our moment in time. Immersed in nature, living, laughing, co-creating, unfolding. Embraced by a community defined by generosity, acceptance, exploration, growth and joy. Reflecting on what matters. Connecting beyond the facade. Relishing in the moment. Refueling, savoring, expanding and setting in motion the ideas, relationships, stories and missions that will leave us forever changed. And, never again alone.
As yet another of my favorite philosophers, Ferris Beuller, once offered:
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Camp GLP is our way of stopping to look around. Turning back on. Tuning back in. And dropping, or more accurately, opting out of mindless pace and into intentional grace. Leaning out, so we know better when and why to lean in. And, knowing, from that moment forward, we no longer travel alone.
Question is, will you join us?
With a whole lotta love & gratitude,
Photo: Bryan Costales ©2009 Bryan Costales, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0
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