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Following Our Bliss
How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today
Esalen Institute and
the First Child of the Sixties
And so, become yourself
because the past is just a "good-bye."
Don't you ever ask them why.
If they told you, you would die.
So just look at them and sigh
and know they love you.
"Teach Your Children"
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, 1970
Every story needs a beginning and every religion its Garden of Eden. Ours begins on a green shelf perched above the rugged splendor of the central California coast. Blue and orange wildflowers dazzle in the noonday sun. Steaming hot springs bubble up from the ground, forming pools with a pungent smell but a sensuous, silky feel. Sixty feet below, the cold Pacific crashes ashore. This is a place of pilgrimage, but not just for humans. Monarch butterflies rest here during their annual migration. They make the round-trip only once, but somehow their progeny find the way back. In coastal canyons cool with morning fog, these noble insects annually blanket the landscape with wings of orange and black.
Big Sur is wild and full of wonder. It's danger and delight. You feel the seasons. Rain and wind lash the coast in winter, sending mud and rock sliding down the hillsides. But those same storms nourish this dry landscape, inspiring green grasses, poppies, and lupine to shoot up in the spring. Summers are cold and foggy, but the salt air warms in early fall, drying the spring grass and fueling wildfires that blacken the land.
Big Sur opens you up, but it can tear at your soul, leaving emptiness inside. It's the end of the line for those of us who wandered across the continent, running from the past or toward an uncertain future. There's nowhere to go but off the cliff or into yourself. At the edge lies the serpent, coiled and ready to help you find the truth. Take this knowledge, drink this potion, shed your skin, find yourself, find God, find something, but be careful not to lose it because you can't go back.
◊ ◊ ◊
David Price was conceived here. It happened in the Waterfall House, a little cabin built atop some of the rocks that channel Hot Springs Creek. The creek tumbles to the sea through one of those butterfly-covered canyons, past the shack where sperm met egg in 1963. His parents, Richard and Eileen, met at a resort called Big Sur Hot Springs. It would soon be known as Esalen Institute -- ground zero for a revolution in consciousness, a place where the young and the hip would soon take off their clothes, drop their defenses, and revel, wail, whine, and dance around whatever came forth from the psyche, spirit, or soul. It would be silly, serious, spiritual, sensuous, self-indulgent -- all at the same time. It would be religion, California style, and would spread across the country and around the world. It was about workshops, not worship, seeking your true self, not eternal salvation. It was experiential, not theological. What would happen at Big Sur during the next few years would be nothing less than the birth pangs of a new religion, a new kind of spirituality. But for young David, it was not the Garden of Eden. It was paradise lost.
His mother, Eileen, had come to Big Sur in 1958. She stayed for a while at the home of Emil White, an old friend of Henry Miller, who moved here in the 1940s. Miller attracted an enclave of artists, freethinkers, and hangers-on. His sexually explicit books, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, were still banned in the United States, and the author had become the folk hero of the fringe literati. Their Big Sur hangout had been notorious since 1947 when it was described in an article in Harper's magazine titled "The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy." Author Mildred Edie Brady found a new kind of religion percolating along the coast, an erotic, sentimental mysticism that traded a wrathful Jehovah for a subtler "life force." Its sages were Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and William Blake; its philosophers, the mystics G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky, along with the crazed genius Wilhelm Reich.
David's father, Richard, came to California to attend Stanford University. Richard earned an undergraduate degree in psychology in 1952 then headed back east to Harvard for graduate studies. Richard Price had no interest in the business world of his father, a corporate leader with Sears, Roebuck & Company back in Chicago, nor was he taken by mainstream academia. He soon left Harvard, returned to San Francisco, and signed up for classes at the Academy of Asian Studies. Price was drawn to Eastern mysticism and the emerging Beat scene in North Beach, but there were demons. A strange euphoria was building up inside him. One spring night he started acting out in a North Beach bar and was tossed into a paddy wagon by six San Francisco cops. According to the authorities, and his father, Price had gone nuts. He was now in the system, sent through a string of mental hospitals, ending with nearly a year at a private psychiatric center in New England called the Institute for Living. They pioneered shock treatment there, and they tried it out on Price. Later he'd refer to this as his "incarceration." His brain was zapped dozens of times with insulin and electric shock. They beat him down but didn't knock him out. Price returned to California in the spring of 1960, this time with a vision that there must be another road to mental health for those struggling with emotional and spiritual turmoil.
Eileen's relationship with Richard lasted only a few months after David's birth. She was living a few miles up Highway One from Big Sur Hot Springs, and Richard wasn't around much. "My father was not very available when I was growing up," David recalls ...Following Our Bliss
How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today. Copyright © by Don Lattin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Don Lattin is one of the nation's leading journalists covering alternative and mainstream religious movements and figures in America. His work has appeared in dozens of U.S. magazines and newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered the religion beat for nearly two decades. Lattin has also worked as a consultant and commentator for Dateline, Primetime, Good Morning America, Nightline, Anderson Cooper 360, and PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. He is the author of Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge, and Following Our Bliss: How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today, and is the coauthor of Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium.
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