The heyday of the hippie era was the period of social unrest that accompanied American involvement in the Vietnam War. The economic realities of subsequent years may have forced many of them into the mainstream, but they still form a counterculture of free spirits who share similar hippie values and common hippie beliefs.
Understanding Hippie Culture
The word "hip" comes from the beatniks, a group of avant-guarde poets and writers prominent in the early 1960s. The beatniks were a reaction to the cultural conformity of postwar industrial America, and their writings resonated with intelligentsia in universities across the country. Someone who was hip could see through the social demands of the era and maintained a kind of Zen-like detachment from them. That person was usually highly literate, preferred jazz, hung out in coffee shops and maintained a bohemian lifestyle that often included smoking marijuana. A hip person was "cool," and said much by saying little.
Taking Drugs in the Hippie Era
During the 1960s, the hippie movement gradually transformed from a collection of literate nonconformists to a reaction against American militarism. The hippie era had two major themes grounded in hippie values: peace, love and universal brotherhood on the one hand and the anarchism of psychedelia on the other. The prominence of psychedelia owed much to Harvard professor Timothy Leary and his infamous "tune in, turn on and drop out" speech, delivered at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 1967. Hippies tuned in by being aware of their own thought and sensory processes, they turned on by using LSD and other psychedelics and they dropped out by wearing loud clothes, making music, letting their hair grow and otherwise eschewing conformity as part of hippie culture.
Practicing Hippie Beliefs
Whether it was from Zen detachment, experimentation with mind-altering drugs or simply an innate need to push beyond cultural mores, many hippies were drawn to the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. Symbolism and iconography from both religious streams permeated the art and music of the hippie era, and many hippies matured into bona fide practitioners. Through the disciplines of religious practice, they left drugs behind while embracing the pacifism, idealism and Zen detachment of the hippie era. Many American Zen and yoga centers, acupuncture and ayurveda clinics and kirtan and bhajan performances are flowers that have bloomed from seeds sown by hippies during the hippie era.
Expressing Hippie Values
The withdrawal of U.S.troops from Vietnam neutralized the polarity that fueled the hippie movement, and it lost some of its relevance to the American population at large. Going with the flow, many hippies went mainstream while retaining the hippy values of music appreciation, environmentalism and spiritual adventurism associated with the hippie era. Thousands of tie-dyed, sandaled hippies congregate for the annual Rainbow Gathering, a wandering, back-to-the-land communal gathering, or Burning Man, a yearly extravaganza in the Nevada desert where hippie values and hippie beliefs dating back to the early hippie movement are celebrated.