Whatever Happened to the Woodstock Generation?
Through scientific understanding, our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had a symbolic meaning for him.
~ C. G. Jung (CW 18, par. 585)
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden ~ Joni Mitchell
When I ask, “Whatever happened to the Woodstock Generation?,” it may sound like I’m asking: “Where are they now?” But that’s not what I mean. I’m not just looking for old people. What I’m asking is: “Whatever happened to the optimistic values of those days?” How did we get from “We can change the world” to “I hope I can get to the grocery store and back without being murdered by someone with an AK-47?”
For those of us who were alive in August of 1969, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was more than just a music festival, and much more than a logistical disaster – although it was definitely both of those things. To many of us, Woodstock represented the idea that the values we had begun to embrace were becoming a real possibility. We imagined and believed that the social and personal transformations we envisioned might actually manifest in our world in a concrete way. For many of us, Woodstock became a symbol. It represented the idea that the communal spirit of caring for others and putting self interest aside could one day be realized. It seemed as though a shift in consciousness was taking place, and that the world was on the verge of becoming a better place because of that shift. This ongoing change seemed to be unstoppable in 1969. It was clear that the old status quo was crumbling, and that those trying to prop it up and maintain the lie were failing. For many of us, the inevitability of this movement in consciousness was symbolized by the spectacle of the Woodstock music festival.
Was all of this simply youthful idealism? Perhaps, but it also seems that there was something there that resonates with the principles of depth psychology. It is true that there were also many assassinations and violent social upheavals in the late 1960s. It is also true that individual members of the “Woodstock Generation” eventually grew up, got jobs, got married, and had children. Idealism in general began to give way to the needs of family and survival, needs which eventually seem to have led to the acquisitiveness of the “me” generation of the 1980s.
At the same time, many of the dreams of the 1960s have continued to be integrated into contemporary society. Certainly, few of the attendees of the Woodstock festival would have imagined that major supermarkets would one day carry a wide selection of organic foods. Few could have foreseen that more than half the states in the union would allow medical marijuana, or that ten states would eventually make recreational marijuana use fully legal, as they have today. Tie dye and patchouli oil may have faded in popularity, but, despite many setbacks, and despite extremely slow progress, civil rights for African Americans, women’s rights, gay rights, and many other freedoms have continued to grow and to receive broad cultural support in ways that would have been impossible in 1969.
So, what has all of this to do with depth psychology? This August, as we observe the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, we find ourselves, as a culture, inundated with technology and partisan politics. Cultures of hate and hate fueled ideologies are emerging around the globe, accompanied by separatism and nationalism of various stripes. To me, as someone who sees depth psychology, specifically the psychology of Carl Jung, as a means to both personal and cultural transformation, all of these factors resemble elements of an alchemical formula. It seems possible that we might be at the point in the alchemical recipe when the separatio has been accomplished. Separatio is the point in the alchemical process when certain elements have lined up, or are in the process of lining up, into pairs of opposites. The next step, then, would be the coniunctio, when the conflicting pairs of cultural opposites are transformed into a unified whole: the philosopher’s stone, or the cultural equivalent of the elixir of life. If it were still possible to accomplish this cultural coniunctio, what might it look like? Might it still be possible to fulfill some of the loftier dreams of the Woodstock Generation, or are we destined for the whole alchemical experiment to fizzle out…or to simply explode?
It is said that, when asked if mankind still has a chance to survive, Carl Jung replied, ‘Yes, if enough people do inner work!’ Are there enough people in our culture who are prepared to do the kind of in depth inner work that Carl Jung was suggesting?
Join us on Saturday, September 7th, when we will discuss all of these issues and more in a Depth Psychology Alliance online community conversation on the question: Whatever happened to the Woodstock Generation? This will not be a political conversation, but a conversation around depth psychology principles and cultural transformation. Please join us as we explore how depth psychology can make a positive contribution to generative, life affirming cultural change. Registration is free.
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