A boomer’s memories of hippies and hot tubs

Hippies and hot tubs. Right away, you know the era we’re talking about, right? It’s the era that R. Wayne Morgan writes about in this excerpt from his new book, Happy Birthday – You’re Old: A Boomer’s Guide to Aging and Other Unexpected Developments. Morgan’s book focuses on the savoring of life’s memories. And we’ve all got a ton of those!

My grandchildren may never understand. It was a New Age and I was a true believer. I took the “Human Potential Movement” seriously, signing up for a workshop at the ‘60s mecca for personal growth—Esalen Institute on the spectacular Big Sur Coast of California.

A view from the Esalen Institute on the spectacular Big Sur Coast of California.

A view from the Esalen Institute on the spectacular Big Sur Coast of California.

My group leader was a large woman with long scraggly hair who obviously had overcome the “hang-up” of being concerned about her appearance. She soon instructed us to “open up our senses” and take a barefoot walk with her.

Even in the pitch darkness, my senses told me we were walking down a dirt path along the cliff above the ocean. Eventually, the line of people in front of me entered a concrete structure lit by flickering candlelight. I noticed it felt warm and humid inside. Then I noticed something else. Everyone was taking off his or her clothes. I took mine off and tried to act as if this was normal behavior for me.

Big Sur along the California coast.

Big Sur along the California coast.

We moved into a room with large tubs on the left and the ceaseless Pacific on the right. The first tub I came too was already crowded with six or seven nude bodies, anchored in one corner by the large leader lady. She motioned for me to get in and—against all logic—I squeezed my body into the already overcrowded mass of nakedness. This was certainly a test for my contact phobia, for no matter how I maneuvered my body, it was impossible not to be touching the wet skin of several other people. To my astonishment, even more people were invited into our tub. There was nothing left to do but surrender.

R. Wayne Morgan and his wife along the Big Sur coast.

R. Wayne Morgan and his wife along the Big Sur coast.

The water was hot and soothing, but it was impossible to move my body into a comfortable position. I became aware of the first rule of naked hot tub use—maintain eye contact. Somehow, it felt more respectful to look people in the eye than to allow them to see me scanning their exposed body. Surprisingly, it did not feel as sensual or sexy as I might have imagined. I tried to think of it as a spiritual experience—although a crowded one.


After we could no longer call ourselves strangers, we moved to tables where we took turns receiving group massage. It was amazing to feel the soft stroking of several hands over different areas of the body (still thinking spiritual). The air was thick with the sweetness of scented oil mingling with the slight sulfur smell of the hot tubs. Added to this was the background sound of the sea surging in a slow rhythm onto the rocks below. It was a delightful sensory overload.

Massaging others brought out surprising feelings of caring and connection. I did not know any of them as individuals, but I felt like I knew all of them in their unprotected humanity. I fell into a trance-like state with no awareness of time. Esalen had captured me and I surrendered without a struggle.

1 Comment

  1. We used to go to a summer retreat near Woodstock and we all knew to get into the hot tub early in the weekend because by the end of the weekend it was redolent of too much hippy happiness.

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