As far as the Encyclopedia Britannica is concerned, hippies are anachronisms, but according to ABC News, the hippie movement remains alive and well. The heyday of hippies was the period of social unrest that accompanied American involvement in the Vietnam War. The economic realities of subsequent years may have forced many of them into the mainstream, but they still form a counterculture that could comprise as much as 10 percent of the population.

Hippie Origins

The word "hip" comes from the beatniks, a group of avant-guarde poets and writers prominent in the early 1960s. The beatniks were a reaction to the cultural conformity of postwar industrial America, and their writings resonated with intelligentsia in universities across the country. Someone who was hip could see through the social demands of the era and maintained a kind of Zen-like detachment from them. That person was usually highly literate, preferred jazz, hung out in coffee shops and maintained a bohemian lifestyle that often included smoking marijuana. A hip person was "cool," and said much by saying little.

Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out

During the 1960s, the hippie movement gradually transformed from a collection of literate nonconformists to a reaction against American militarism, and it had two major themes: peace, love and universal brotherhood on the one hand and the anarchism of psychedelia on the other. The prominence of psychedelia owed much to Harvard professor Timothy Leary and his infamous "tune in, turn on and drop out" speech, delivered at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 1967. Hippies tuned in by being aware of their own thought and sensory processes, they turned on by using LSD and other psychedelics and they dropped out by wearing loud clothes, making music, letting their hair grow and otherwise eschewing conformity.

Om

Whether it was from Zen detachment, experimentation with mind-altering drugs or simply an innate need to push beyond cultural mores, many hippies were drawn to the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. Symbolism and iconography from both religious streams permeated the art and music of the hippie era, and many hippies matured into bona fide practitioners. Through the disciplines of religious practice, they left drugs behind while embracing the pacifism, idealism and Zen detachment of the hippie era. Many American Zen and yoga centers, acupuncture and ayurveda clinics and kirtan and bhajan performances are flowers that have bloomed from seeds sown by hippies.

Enduring Values

The withdrawal of U.S.troops from Vietnam neutralized the polarity that fueled the hippie movement, and it lost some of its relevance to the American population at large. Going with the flow, many hippies went mainstream while retaining the love of music, environmentalism and spiritual adventurism associated with the movement. Thousands of tie-dyed, sandaled hippies congregate for the annual Rainbow Gathering, a wandering, back-to-the-land communal gathering, or Burning Man, a yearly extravaganza in the Nevada desert. Psychologist Sherry Anderson and business consultant Paul Ray estimated that 50 million Americans were still sympathetic to hippie values at the beginning of the 21st century.