In Nick Broomfield’s documentary on the long-lived love of Leonard Cohen and the Marianna of “So Long Marianne” fame, Words Of Love, there is much food for thought among the reminiscences of what I’d call the Hydra experiment of the early sixties, much ruminating on the ultimate value of earthly beauty, endless sunshine, the simple life outside cities and technology, free love, wine and psychedelics. Some obviously felt, and still do, that it was a heaven on earth, a gift from god for those who were brave enough to take the plunge. Others expressed regret for those who fell victim to the excesses of pleasure, joy and the freedom to indulge one’s fantasies on a whim. Some of the fallen collapsed right there in the midst of the merry madness and others on returning to the real world of rents and jobs and responsibilities. Sadly but perhaps predictably, mental breakdowns, suicides and confinement to institutions were not, ultimately, uncommon. A few damaged yet radiant survivors testify to the various myths which, siren like, seduced the restless to that jewel in the sea, leading them inexorably to their charmed demise.
Broomfield’s tireless research has uncovered more archival footage and interviews than one would have believed possible fifty years ago when Cohen’s tale of taking his Canada Council grant and using it to live cheaply in the warm bosom of the Greek islands, write poetry and the now famous novel, barely read in its day, Beautiful Losers, was shared among Canadian writers and assorted arts bunnies of my acquaintance.
Broomfield, as he has so often done in the past, takes us, with the craft and taste that comes with age, to an extended stay in comtemplation, where the average scheduled, demanding life, is contrasted wth the grinning satisfactions of days without clocks and moonlit nights blessed only by dawn. We see that so far unremarked class of bohemians, some single some with families, that, perhaps unknowingly, bridged the gap between the beats of the fifties and the hippies of the late sixties, with only their rejection of bourgeois conformity to guide them, playing at life like children in some pretty summer garden while the rest of humanity suffered the daily rigours of money, food, clothes and shelter in climates not often conducive to cheery, careless banter.
Of course there have always been those throughout the tides of culture and history who have sought, either through moneyed leisure or religious determination, refuge from the grind. Nests and pockets sprinkled about mountain ranges, hidden valleys and remote islands. The peace of silence and the luxuries of laziness can be seen as strange bedfellows if you look hard enough.
These folks, many of whom seemed to be escaping the dullness and regimentation of post war Europe and North America, were re-enacting not only that eternal human urge to seek adventure, excitement and fulfilment “elsewhere” – over the mountains, beyond the sea – but what I consider that ancient search for the vaguely recalled misty paradise of their dreams, which, as we have discussed, is always one or other of the heavens comprising that fabled territory commonly known as the afterlife. That youthful abandonment of family and society in seach of adventure, joy and pleasure is spurred on by the soul memory of the freedoms and unfettered happiness of the heaven worlds, joys very often in short supply as one buckles down to the demands of seemingly pointless labour and the stupid shiny prizes it dangles.
To put it simply: the subconscious memory of paradise there spurs us to to find or create one here. And it is in our youth, when those memories are most active, when we succumb to the search, often characterised by either a careless or carefee bravado.
But the whole point of incarnation is to dive into the deep end of life with a minimum of guidance and safety nets. That school of hard knocks is no accident of malicious misfortunes. It was set up so that you could tangle with it in any way you saw fit. Yes, the physical plane is a playground but it comes pre-loaded with pitfalls and bullies. Everyone there is either damaged or ready to inflict damage and your ability to assess and discern is exercised without pause. Escaping to some paradise, either anarchically bohemian or religiously regimented, only kicks the can of individual responsibility down the road where it waits patiently to trip you up and mock your naivete.
Repeating the joys and pleasures of the heaven worlds does not advance your cause of experiential development and evolution. As almost everyone knows, after two week’s vacation, you are keen for fresh challenges: your ego wants the reins and your spirit wants to cheer you on.
It is obvious from Greenfield’s interviews that psychedelics were easily available and eagerly consumed by all, including some who were barely more than children (one contributor affirms that “Marianna gave me my first hit of acid” and that after two weeks of heavenly joys, he was advised to leave as another of her boyfriends was arriving by ferry). These much lauded liberators of consciousness help create that bubble of stress-free joys that these paradise communities seek and enjoy. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, the trips unfurl the infinities of peception and inner knowing which bring the experiencers to the vibrational edge of the astral plane, where all is indeed possible. (One interviewee comments “You thought, on Hydra, that literally anything was possible”). Again this triggers reminders, however vague and subject to doubt, of our life before birth with all its extended perceptions and lack of limitations. The telepathy, the flying, the teleportation, the remodeling of rooms without lifting a finger.
And, as synchronicity would have it, as it usually does if you perk up your various periscopes, a clip from the doc Fly presented itself to me, it being an oral history of the band Jefferson Airplane, their musical career and contribution to the San Francisco centred counterculture of the late sixties. In it the band members all comment on the magical nature of their community and how it was fueled by psychedelics (Marty Balin recalls a concert where he flung tiny tabs of acid out to the audience like confetti at a wedding), and Paul Kantner in particular recounts a week in summer of ’66, (which was the real summer of love some say), where “if you wished for something you could have it”. Again the bubble of consciousness-raised paradise and the arrival at the edge of astral plane reality, where thought and desire can create almost any form with ease.
In these, our wiser, older days, where the repressions of fifty years back have been replaced with an openess and embrace of alternate methods of doing almost everything, psychedelics have become a much praised, and some might say revered, resource, both in psychological therapies deaing with depression and terminal illness, and in consciousness expansion for the sheer fun of it, such ruminations may only serve as a charming postcard of reminiscence, but I do believe that repeatedly contemplating the implications of raising the vibration of the physical plane to that of the astral, where the dead pursue their interests with a good deal more playfulness than here, can only help us in our slow but deliberate ascension to the light body, its gravity and speed-of-light defying reality.