Stephen Gaskin, free thinker and founder of the The Farm Commune, passes away at 79

By Craig Issod

Stephen Gaskin – well known founder of the The Farm Commune – died peacefully surrounded by family on July 1, 2014.

As a former resident of The Farm, I am in touch with hundreds of members and extended family and friends – most of whom consider Stephen to have been a force for good in their lives.

Stephen married my wife and I and we had our first child on The Farm – using The Farm midwives. I learned my first trades on The Farm and was able to parlay that knowledge into a number of successful careers.

Here are a couple links to news stories about Stephen’s passing:
Washington Post
New York Times

Here is a link to one of our articles written about The Farm:

A link to the current Farm Community.

I have many of my own thoughts about The Farm and Stephen’s influence on myself and others. I’ll share some here:

“First, I think I learned that brave people are truly few. Stephen, with all his faults, rose way above the pack in terms of bravery (putting himself out front – sticking to ideals). Not to venerate – because I feel that’s a human weakness, but we do need more people who act in the “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” manner. On a more personal note, I think many of Stephens teaching were those of the ages…just modified for the way we (in the counterculture/baby boomers) communicated. He also emphasized DOING over being conceptual.”

“Dazzle them with your Fancy Footwork” is a quote I attribute to Stephen – not sure if I just heard it or if it was written.
In context the meaning was “hey, y’all have long hair and a funny way of dressing and talking, so when you go to work for other people do a MUCH better job than they expect and they will react properly”. In other words, hard work and honestly cut across all lines of society. It’s a simple but effective piece of wisdom which probably existed long ago and has been stated in other ways since. But we hippies had to hear it in a way that it appealed to us!”

Stephen’s influence is too wide and deep to fit in any article or book. However, as just one example, here is a small tribute to Stephen written by The Woz – Apple Computer founder – Steve Wozniak:

“In every walk of life we take care of each other and owe all that we achieve to friends and family. How we treat other humans is much more important than creating products and wealth. Our principles in life should always be much more important than that. As much as we can teach others, our actions and examples pass on the goodness in our heads to others.
Thank you for inspiration at a critical time in my life when I was deciding what sort of person I wanted to be.”

I think the Woz summed it up for many of us. Inspiration when we were deciding what kind of people we wanted to be….

And so, let me Thank A Hippie – Thank You, Stephen…

Note – picture below is not posted on this site – it’s from Robert Altman, a famous photographer.
Stephen Gaskin - by Robert Altman

Editorial: What was the hippie movement really all about?

Drugs?
Sex?
Rock n’ Roll?
Woodstock?
The Grateful Dead?
Abbie Hoffman?

Actually, it was about none of these things – but our popular culture and mass media need ways of defining and categorizing movements, so many of these descriptors are used instead of the more difficult reality.

A more accurate synopsis of the counterculture might be found by pulling some words, phrases and song titles/lyrics from the time.

The beat of a different drummer (think different, open your mind)
With a little help from my friends (community)
When I’m 64 (positive living and aging)
If 6 was 9 (alternative ways of looking at the world)
Castles Made of Sand (life it temporary and often a tragedy, but make the best of it)
Let it Be (know what you can change and what you cannot)
Presence of the Lord (spirit)
Freedom (Richie Havens – quest for equality and personal freedoms)
Are you Experienced? (do you know the “great unsaid” – referring often to deep spirituality)
Our House – coming out the other end and living a happy and grateful life

The hippie period of history was one where “all the balls were in the air”. The combination of distrust in the society, the government, the police and other institutions put almost everything up for grabs. However, human beings desire structure as well as direction. We in the hippie movement knew what we DID NOT want, but the question of what we actually did want was much more difficult!

Most in the counterculture were very young – so-called “hippies” were often as young as 15 (I was!) to as old as 25 (although a very few were older). In a general sense, the counterculture consisted of young men and women who had not yet taken their place in society.

So, what to do???

Much of the answer was found in a single book of the era – in fact, most every true member of the counterculture probably read this tome as it contained the instructions about “what to do next”.

That book was Be Here Now – but Richard Alpert (Ram Dass):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Here_Now_(book)

Richard Alpert, for those not familiar, was one of the two Harvard Doctors (he, along with Timothy Leary) who first experimented with LSD and other major hallucinogens. Much of this experimentation was done legally – and with the blessings of the school as well as other institutions. It was only after “the man” (government, law and order, etc.) discovered that these compounds were a danger to their authoritarianism and consumer culture (the status quo) that they were make illegal. By that point it was too late to put the drugs back on the shelve – the secret was out and Leary and Alpert proceeded to turn on many millions of people worldwide (illegally, by that time).

Be Here Now (Amazon link):
http://amzn.to/1i0wHnR

The book made a number of important points, specifically:

1. Mind (your head, your outlook) creates your world
2. Drugs were just a quick shortcut for a peek at true spirituality – they are not the True Path to a good life.
3. A real life entails “chopping wood and carrying water” in the Zen Buddhist sense – meaning that you wake up each day and do what needs to be done to continue with life.

These may sound like simple guidelines, but to many people – even today – they reinforce that life is about daily living – about the so-called “here and now”, as opposed to worrying about the future and the past.

The book was, as wikipedia puts it, a “seminal work” and “the counterculture bible” and it’s influence on the direction of the counterculture cannot be underestimated. It drove many of the movements toward “back to the land” and “right livelihood” which took root in the early 1970’s.

The Farm – perhaps the most vibrant commune of the “counterculture” era

Note – as is mentioned in some other posts here, my wife and I lived on a commune called The Farm for a few years in the mid-1970’s. I will write up some of my own stories and outlooks on the experience, but for those who want to know what we were about, the following story by a fellow “farmie” should answer….
—————-

The Farm: A Case Study in Creating a New Consciousness and Culture
by Milt Wallace

In the dance between developing individual consciousness and a newly evolving culture, small groups that are in some way isolated from the larger culture can play an important role in creating, incubating and beginning to stabilize the new ideas and values. As the Post Modern paradigm emerged in the 70’s and 80’s, The Farm, a hippy spiritual community was one such group. Because of its size, outreach, and spiritual depth, The Farm’s impact was significant.

Post Modern Culture had its beginnings more than a century ago, but the turbulent years which included the Cold War, the Vietnam and Korean Wars, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, the Kent State killings, and much more ignited a cultural revolution that led many baby boomers to question the status quo, and to search for some new meaning to life. Travel any highway and you would find young people and some not so young along the road, leaving their middle class homes or aborting their college educations and looking for something new. Modern Consciousness and Culture had a long run with its roots in the 16th century, but as we passed the middle of the 20th century, many came to feel that things weren’t working so well any more.
Continue reading The Farm – perhaps the most vibrant commune of the “counterculture” era