My good friend, Lloyd Agte, has been trying to encourage me to write an article about how we “old geezers” who experienced the birth of the New Age are viewing those experiences today. In our correspondence I have been sharing how what I am reading in Ernest Callenbach’s book, Ecotopia, corresponds to many of the principles that were the basis of the Whole Life Learning Center, (WLLC) the non-profit wholistic education and counseling center I founded in 1973 in Denver, Colorado.
Mr. Callenbach recently passed on, perhaps to Ecotopia in the great beyond! Just before he passed he left on his computer a last article on an America in decline. I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page at the time. It seemed like every news feed of any importance at all was also posting that article. It definitely was getting the attention of so many of us who are profoundly frustrated with the direction the policies and functions (or lack thereof) of government are headed. As I am reading the book I am re-identifying with the principles and functions those of us involved with WLLC shared. Ecotopia was about the hypothetical secession of Washington, Oregon and Northern California from the rest of the United States and forming a “stable state” society. The United States was becoming more and more polluted and more focused toward profits than concern for what was happening to Mother Earth.
Of course, any utopian society would probably not work. Interestingly, that is precisely how the story unfolds in the book. A reporter from the states visits Ecotopia presumably to write an expose’ of how it wasn’t working, only to discover day by day how it actually WAS working! (Personal note: I think each of us at one time or another has thought about what a utopian society would be like, and maybe even wished we could be part of developing such a society.)
One of the activities many of us in the New Age Movement seriously considered at the time was the development of wholistic communities. Some looked for land in the Colorado Mountains. One group, from the Denver Free University, with which I was also involved, charted out an area just east of downtown Denver and began to plan buying up a number of contiguous blocks of homes, closing alleys between homes, taking down fences and making community gathering places with grass instead of asphalt. With my realtor’s license I managed to handle the purchase of one piece of property for a young couple.
Here I include a comment from Lloyd on his perception of New Age and community.
“As to New Age and communal living. I see the New Age ‘children’ (which I define as those under 40 at the time and most in mid-twenties to mid-thirties--if my sense of the demographics of the times is accurate), and there was no real provision in their utopian dreams of caring for old people and especially there were no dreams of themselves ever becoming old. In fact, one function of the New Age was to preserve youth forever (‘May you be forever young,’ Dylan sang). So the utopian communes had no built-in provision for aging or caring for the aged. There was a lot of reaction in the hippie movement growing out of the late 'sixties to the selfish individualism that was becoming rampant following the U.S. global dominance following WWII. Now, it seems, nearly all have capitulated to it and capitalist indulgence for self-pleasure seems to the many to be the pinnacle of achievement.”
I have flirted with the idea of community a few times since the heady days in Colorado, but the more I believe in the values that could be realized, the more I feel that perhaps my time for that has passed. In my aging process, particularly in these latter years where I have lived alone, I have developed my own living rituals. I realize how difficult it would now be to make the changes anyone would have to make were I to seek to live in a communal life style. That is not to say that I do not believe there is a wonderful opportunity within that life style for growth and a satisfying sense of productivity and well-being. I believe I could support such a community even if I could not live in it.
In 2007 when Barack Obama was running for President I strongly felt there was light at the end of the treacherous tunnel of the Bush/Cheney years, which led us into deep debt and depression, losses of life and limbs in useless wars, and a general malaise bereft of hope for many of us. Unfortunately, in Obama’s successful election there immediately was the beginning of entrenchment of many who could not accept his win. So continued the downward spiral economically and socially that were the results of the prior years of calculated neglect of prudent financial and social policy. We now find our country in the midst of chaotic divisiveness where there are no winners, regardless of who gets elected. The two party system is now in complete disarray and dysfunction.
You say I am simply exaggerating the problem? That things will work out, because “they always do”? Maybe. I just do not see that view out my window on the country. In defense of your possible questions, I admit to having moved away from the philosophy of life that I was brought up with, that I studied in seminary and afterward, and by which I always sought to live. I still believe in what I once knew to be true for me, but clearly I am too frustrated to work on it for now. And I am aware of what that means for me.
Another comment from Lloyd:
“ . . . a large part of the mission of the New Age, at least as I experienced it, was to get beyond all these manufactured, induced desires, beyond the false-self created by advertising and the market as god and to get to the true self and true inner desires coupled with an inner morality and a principled ethics. It was a moral and spiritual compass in a time of empire over-reach and a massive human sacrifice for an expanding capitalist market. It's not so close to home now. We can get our sanitized news about twenty people killed by an unmanned drone and not even blink.”
So what is the bottom line when it comes to “New Age” thinking and living as one ages? Same as it ever was. Principles and philosophies are only as good as their practice. If I do not practice the values that have always been important to me, I will not enjoy the benefits that they offer. Even when enthusiasm wanes and frustration sets in, the ideals are still as true as they ever were. So, for me at this particular moment I may see in a “glass darkly.” But, when the light dawns again, when faith is restored by my desire to believe, I will see clearly and once again enjoy the fruits of my practice.