It would be easy to dismiss the hippies of the 1960s. Let’s face it; with the tagline of “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” it can be difficult for people to take them seriously.
It would be easy to dismiss them, but it would be wrong. The hippies and the counterculture they developed helped usher in significant changes in America. They fought for much needed social change, and by doing so moved our society forward in ways that will never be rescinded.
Margaret Grundstein was a hippie in the 60s.
Her book, “Naked in the Woods: My Unexpected Years in a Hippie Commune” is a captivating story about the times. Margaret is a great storyteller and an excellent writer. The book, as Margaret describes on her website, “chronicles my shift from reluctant hippie to committed utopian, against the story of our loss of innocence.”
I sat down with Margaret to discuss her book, her experiences, and what those experiences mean today.
The transformative time in her life was when she was at Yale University. There, her actions, her friends, and the man who would eventually become her husband led her to become that reluctant hippie, eventually moving out to Oregon to live on a commune for five years.
“I was lucky enough to live right at a nexus of all the things that were happening,” Margaret said as we talked about her book. “I wasn’t too young. I wasn’t too old. It was a historic period and I was able to jump in and reap the benefits.”
“I look back at that time and I’m proud of it. I loved living in a group. I loved living outdoors. And I loved having the feeling that I was expanding into and birthing something of meaning that was bigger than myself.”
What they were trying to bring into the world were the ideals of spirituality, of being open and not judgmental, of being at one with nature, and building a community based on sharing. To a large degree, at least for a period of time, they succeeded.
Although religion was not a part of the commune life as Margaret experienced it, as I read her book it seemed to me that they were actually trying to live their daily lives by the values many religions preach.
“They are Judeo-Christian values,” Margaret said. “To live and love. Agape. Jesus is love, that’s what he embodies. Christ is love. God is love. Utopian themes are universal themes.”
The hippies also worked for more down-to-earth causes such as putting an end to corporate greed, protecting the environment, and racial and gender equality. I asked Margaret what impact she thought the 60s counterculture had on American society.
“It’s always a continuum and I think we got on the escalator and moved along with the motion. We had participated in sit-ins. We had participated in the university to bring greater integration. We had participated in rallies against the war. We had participated in feminist movements.”
“But we took it home to our own back yard and said, ‘Let’s live it.’ We couldn’t live it perfectly. We certainly made mistakes and we ran across some of the same speed bumps that everybody runs across, our own inborn prejudices. We were our generation’s response to these quests and we added new things and we responded to others and we handed it off to the next generation.”
Margaret grew up in mainstream American society, left it for several years to live the counterculture life, and now has returned to the mainstream. (She runs a preschool and is a family counselor.) She’s lived successfully on both sides. I asked her if one was a better way.
“How do we solve the woes of modern society? I don’t know,” she replied. “The answers are hard. I think I have gotten old enough to know that in this society if you can take care of yourself financially it can often make your life easier, but it is not the answer. I have incredible freedom and I have had an incredibly satisfying life and I have new adventures in front of me. I know it can be hard getting along with people, whether you’re married to them, whether you live in a community with them, whether you’re in a family with them.”
“I don’t think Utopia exists. I don’t think nirvana is out there.”
I have to admit, I was disappointed when I heard Margaret say that.
I thought the 60’s hippie movement was Utopia. Being born in 1959, I was alive during the 60s. But Margaret LIVED the 60s. Margaret lived the 60s they way they were supposed to be lived: engaged, idealistic, rebellious, and determined to change things.
And those experiences gave her some unique perspective and wisdom about our society and how best to make it work.
“One thing I’ve learned is there are many different ways of being in the world that are valuable, and if there is space and room for an amalgam of those, more power to all of us,” she replied.
For more information on Margaret, go to her web site at MargaretGrundstein.com.