Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"Just as it is hard to be sober when no one else is, I found what thousands of other veterans of groups have found: that it is hard to re-enter 'back-home' reality after the intoxicating communion of a successful encounter . . . "

--Jane Howard in her book "Please Touch," recounting her year's participation in the Human Potential Movement, 1970

The problem of re-entry defines the Four of Cups. How to address the challenge of returning the mind to an old reality after experiencing any of the numerous ways to alter it? Howard writes here about a Sixties encounter group, the therapeutic signature of the era's human potential movement in which participants shed their social norms to explore deeply felt and dangerous emotions. But she might also have described the afterglow of LSD or psilocybin, or the return of a shell-shocked soldier from Vietnam. Mind-altering experiences permeated the Counterculture zeitgeist with their life-altering possibilities. Following the flourish of attachments associated with the suit's first three cards, the Cups now confront a negative emotion: a plunge into an underworld of discontent, even despair, as the search for fulfillment confronts thresholds of experience that give rise to uncomfortable, unforgettable new feelings. The Four suggests something felt but not seen, a stirring dissatisfaction that pales potential while exploring it, and that hints at a deeper, more disturbing reality.

The Sixties brought up a number of troubling emotions in a multitude of ways. Some of these processes were institutionalized by the terms of humanistic psychology, but many - drugs, especially - were without maps of any kind. Popular assurances did not make them safe and the adventures of a 12-hour high or a weekend of attack therapy, welcomed without skepticism, could leave bitter tastes. Those left out of the intoxicating communions promised by acid trips, free love, and a host of therapies that included screams, attacks, catharses and abreactions, were much like the passing figure pictured on the Counterculture Four. One might find inside a fearful reckoning, an overload of limbic terror that detached the mind and heart from the joy outside and that made love or pleasure too intense to behold, much less embrace.

The emergence of humanistic psychology was coincidental with the discovery and proliferate use of LSD, a seemingly classic Jungian synchronicity. Both had their origins in the post-war years. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers developed their regard for self-actualization and peak experiences at the same time researchers like Dr. Sidney Cohen were exploring the therapeutic uses of Lysergic Diethylamide. By 1965, Maslow was a star at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, the emerging center of human potentiality. Revolutionary, and untested, psychiatric therapies emerged with an anti-behavioral focus on developing exceptional life experiences filled with happiness, creativity and fulfillment. By 1965, some 40,000 psychiatric patients around the world had received LSD therapeutically and some 2,000 papers on LSD effects had been published. Dr. Cohen and other researchers reported, among other findings, that LSD seemed to make patients more receptive to psychiatric treatment, improved mood, produced feelings of well being, gave users profound new insights, could be used successfully to treat alcoholism, and was an effective palliative for terminal cancer patients. With the latter, Dr. Cohen found that LSD reduced pain like other opiates, but that pain relief continued after the LSD-trip terminated. And many cancer patients retained their equanimity for weeks after the pain returned, saying they no longer considered the pain important.

New therapies and psychedelic drugs that offered transcendence could be painful ways to open the heart and re-orient the mind. Intimations of mortality were ever present in these experiences that frequently brought up so many irrational and uncontainable feelings. Some viewed therapy as an adventure or the drug high as a "trip" that offered what popular mythologist Joseph Campbell at the time termed a "hero's journey." And though Campbell did not necessarily link therapy or drugs with the personal quest, he concluded that in a genuine adventure of the soul no traveler could return home unscarred or unchanged. The ultimate benefit derived from experimental therapies and psychotropic drugs may not have been what was immediately experienced, but what finally emerged as a direction toward which the humanist and, later, transpersonal approaches might point. This included the unequivocal affirmation of the self, even if self-actualization might have seemed elusively indescribable.