‘How is violence to be eradicated, without begetting more violence?
‘How is violence to be eradicated, without begetting more violence?
What method to stop war, without further killing?
Nothing short of a basic shift in the human psyche – there appears to be no more readily discernable answer.
The idea of change being effected by a mass change in the collective consciousness and conscience of mankind
is not so much wishful thinking, but is the Path we must travel.
The whole needs to see itself for what it is – ONE.’
The Meditation room on Haight Street
“It’s really far out here, man.”
“It’s really far out here, man.”
Never before had America, or the world, witnessed such an unusual and remarkable event. At least 20,000 people came to the Human Be-In gathering on the Polo Field of Golden Gate Park, which was located very near the Pacific Ocean beach. No tickets or products were sold, and no political candidates for any office spoke. There was no line-up of people waiting to get into a stadium or large theater. People just seemed to drift onto the polo field from all parts of the park. Moreover, as directed by the Be-In poster designed by Michael Bowen, they carried food to share, flowers, beads, costumes, feathers, bells, cymbals, and flags. In order for the grand performance art of the Human Be-In to be effective in leading to mass cultural change, every individual who attended would have to feel as if the powerful new experience of that magical day belonged to him or her alone. Be-In participants left that day “…as seeds erupting from a red and opening lotus” ready to go forth in their exuberance, grow, and mature into more sophisticated human beings, ready to empower in their own unique way many others that they contacted. In the days and weeks that followed the Human Be-In, countless other individuals who were not personally present would soon hear from first hand experiences, media coverage, or through the San Francisco Oracle, about the mind-altering experiences of the Human Be-In. The Be-In was that one, singular too-good-to-be-true, event that carried utopian fantasies of love, peace, and human harmony into the Haight Ashbury summer. As the preeminent zeitgeist experience, this extraordinary event produced shock waves of consciousness and cultural change that would reverberate over the entire world. After the Human Be-In, the stage was set, and the people activated, for the seminal Summer of Love to manifest.
View of the Human Be-In crowd from on top of the flatbed truck stage
The effects of the influential 1967 Summer of Love swelled into international pro-peace factions promoting the principles of love and personal freedoms that assisted many other movements in the years and decades to follow – Civil rights, which led to the social benefits of affirmative action, the Women’s Liberation movement which created advancement and equality for women, especially in the workforce, and anti-war groups forming protest rallies, ultimately leading to the end of the Vietnam war. Other progressive social concerns led to healthier lifestyles and diets, alternative medicines, expanded tolerance for gays, lesbians, and alternative sexual mores, and acceptance of non-Western forms of Spirituality. Perhaps most importantly, the Summer of Love brought honest environmental and ecological understanding to the public awareness. These initial ecologically correct edifications became the catalyst for the environmental renaissance that we are experiencing 40 years later with the personalities of politician prophets such as Al Gore, who may or may not be remembered, and other “Green” ecological groups that honor Mother Earth. The ecological movement, once derided as hippie tree-huggers, has now morphed into a well-respected intellectual, cultural, and political force in 2007, demanding humanity needs to carefully rethink its understanding of civilization’s relationship with planet earth. Governments and individuals must now cooperate more than ever to solve the complex problem of climate change. Far from being perceived as wacko hippie tree-huggers, the movement for global ecological discernment is now touted as being the only sane future for the survival of humanity. Individual, as well as societal and governmental, responsibilities are the keys to actions that will produce the necessary reversal of global warming. All of these human evolutionary improvements are so ingrained in modern cultural norms that many simply take these freedoms, civil liberties, and necessary educational innovations for granted. What should never be forgotten, however, is that many of the progressive insights and necessary changes instigated in the Sixties have their origins in Bowen’s creation of the Human Be-In, the grand performance art.
San Francisco, in 1967, was the Mandala epicenter from where the concepts of love, peace, independent creative thinking, along with social and civil equality that is associated with the counter culture, proliferated nationally and internationally into a larger perception and realization of human unity. In 2007, with the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love gathering media attention, many journalists are writing about the need to recognize the progressive changes that were initiated in 1967, and to again embrace those ideals of the Summer of Love to help alleviate many of the societal and cultural ills of modern times. Lisa Leff writes in her Associated Press article that was reprinted in numerous publications, “If the Summer of Love established San Francisco as the hub of hippiedom, the summer of 2007 may be remembered as a time the country commemorated 1960s counterculture by taking the ‘counter’ out of it.” In addition, Mark Morford in his May 2, 2007, article in the San Francisco Chronicle The Hippies were Right! says; “Hippie values were always and forever, about connectedness. It was about how we are all in this together. It was about resisting the status quo and fighting tyrannical corporate/political power and it was about opening your consciousness and seeing new possibilities of how we can all live with something resembling actual respect for the planet, for alternative cultures, for each other. You know, all that typical hippie crap no one believes in anymore. Right?”
‘A wholeness is to emerge – sweet its perfume, soft its song,
Enduring its strength, unending its sphere.’
Michael Bowen in his Haight Street studio 1967
This is the real story of the event known as the Human Be-In, and its impact on the existing society of the time. It begins with the actual day of this magical phenomenon, which serves as a pivot point, or an axis if you wish, in the telling of the years of preparation, planning, and lineage of human beings necessary to create such a profound and redefining moment in history. It is a tale that spans the seeming of Time, and speaks to self-realization and the reality of Unity. The drama of that eventful day of the Be-In, which initiated the Summer of Love, manifested in a humble Beat-generation manner at sunrise on the morning of January 14, 1967. The ending of the Human Be In came when the sun set over the Pacific Ocean that evening. The Polo field itself was like a huge oval womb, bathed in the sun’s light, isolated from the noise, traffic, and disruptive cacophony of the city, encircled by a beautiful pine and eucalyptus forest. The only objects on the polo field that day, brought there early in the morning before sunrise, were a large flatbed truck/stage and a generator hidden underneath. Like the Beat generation before them, the Haight Ashbury community learned to use whatever was easily accessible and on hand.
Polo fields Golden Gate Park
Bowen found the polo field quite by accident, or the magical accident of the design of One. Finding the right location for the upcoming gathering had elements of the mysterious, since Bowen was absolutely at a loss as to where to hold the Human Be-In. Before any flatbed trucks or thoughts of crowds had occurred, in November, 1966, Bowen was standing in Golden Gate Park in front of the San Francisco Museum, with its rather small meadows and band shell, thinking that perhaps this would be the best place for the upcoming gathering. Luckily, his good friend Roberto Ayala was with him. Michael was somehow trying to envision a way that this space by the museum could be a good place to have the Be-In.
Roberto and Michael
He was talking with Ayala about the pros and cons of this location when Roberto stopped him in mid-sentence and said, “Come on Michael, you’re too fat, I’m going to take you for a run.” After a few minutes of walking through the park towards the Pacific Ocean, Ayala and Bowen were standing on the polo field, a place Bowen had never been before in all his years in San Francisco. The two of them began to trot around the oval field. Ayala looked at Bowen and said, “Still looking for a place to have your Human Be-In?” Bowen and Ayala stopped jogging, and, with nostrils full of salt air from the nearby Pacific Ocean, carefully surveyed this new, huge oval space. “No, I’m not looking anymore Roberto, this is really it,” Michael said to his long time Mexican-Indian friend. “And I think you knew that this was really it when you brought me here.” After solving the major problem of where to have the gathering, they went back to Haight Street and ate enchiladas as a way of celebrating.
As Be-In photographs show, there were no signs or banners promoting a slogan or message. This was another aspect of the conscious design of the grand performance art. Modern societies surround us with a barrage of visual, mind-manipulating advertising that constantly diverts our attention from ourselves. Bowen made sure that no slogans or propaganda of any sort would interfere with an individual’s personal experience of nature, and themselves as part of that nature which surrounded them. There were some old rugs and inexpensive Indian cloth prints laid out on the flatbed truck along with some pillows. The well known spiritual, intellectual, and writer friends that Michael Bowen had talked into coming to the event from all over America, sat on those pillows and on those rugs in a human-tableau designed as a piece of living art. They included Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, Jack Weinberg, Michael McClure, Richard Alpert, Lenore Kandel, Suzuki Roshi from the local Zen Center, and Jerry Rubin, along with Bowen’s good friends, the drummers with their drums from the mountains of Big Sur, California. The people who were arriving could see that those “famous” individuals, whose works they had read directly or read about in the media, had also journeyed to the Be-In to simply sit and be with them as equals. The older and better-known individuals were at the event to be seen on stage, and not particularly heard. Those few who did speak, and who were effectively heard, did so for only a few moments. To be effectively heard means to be remembered for what was said. The most cogent example was Timothy Leary’s succinct, mantra-like statement that is still remembered and quoted today, 40 years later: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
Michael Bowen and Timothy Leary