What do Esalen Institute, the Catholic church, A Course in Miracles, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Burning Man, the Children of God, Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, the Hog Farm, the Native American Church, the Reverend Sun Moon, Scientology, EST training and The Farm have in common?
For one thing, they all show up (along with many others) in Don Lattin’s book, “Following Our Bliss, How the Spiritual Ideals of the Sixties Shape Our Lives Today.”
Lattin, 50, is an award-winning religion writer and co-author of another book about spirituality, “Shopping for Faith: American Religion in the New Millennium.”
He first came to Berkeley in 1969 when, as a naive 16-year-old, he drove a 1965 Mustang up Highway 1 from his home in Palos Verdes. He returned again in 1972, enrolled as a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley.
He still owns his home in North Berkeley, but recently he moved with his wife and her two daughters to a house in Alameda. Now he likes to say they are the owners of a four bedroom, two bath house, half of which is located in Berkeley, the other half in Alameda.
I met Lattin at the Zen Center on Russell Street in Berkeley. In the quiet garden, surrounded by laughing Buddhas and decorated pumpkins, Lattin told me about his writing career. As an undergraduate at Cal he majored in sociology and was a member of the Daily Cal staff. From there he became a stringer for the San Francisco Examiner. For two years he struggled with the “oh-so-exciting” transportation beat, and every Monday he masqueraded as the Phantom Commuter.
“Nothing could be more boring than covering traffic patterns,” he says. In 1978 he was among a team of Examiner reporters who covered the aftermath of the mass murder/suicides at Jonestown. His interest in cults and spirituality blossomed, and he volunteered to write more about religion and related subjects. In 1988 he defected to the Chronicle and became a religion reporter.
The fundamental questions that Lattin asks in his new book are: “What happened to the spirit of the 60s and how do parents teach kids about faith and morals when they have rejected their own religious upbringings.” Lattin says that the 50s were a time of building religious institutions, the 60s and the 70s were a time of seeking and the 80s and 90s a time of practice.
He tracks the lives of dozens of spiritual seekers and their children, some enthusiastic, some reluctant, who employ many methods in order to find faith, nirvana, and/or the ultimate high.
He starts with Esalen Institute, the birthplace of the human potential movement, the place Lattin says where, “Sixties spirituality took root on the California coast.”
Esalen is a retreat center based upon the belief that human capabilities are always evolving. Through a variety of disciplines, participants in Esalen workshops can transform their consciousness, improve communication and find deep compassion for other people.
He goes on to explore the successful beginnings of the Rajneesh community in Oregon and its eventual downfall. He studies the early recruitment triumphs of the Hare Krishnas and their now dwindling numbers. He talks about the mass marriages performed by Sun Moon and the child-rearing mistakes of his Moonie followers. He chronicles the growth and continued success of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County.
As he says in the final lines of “Finding Our Bliss,” Now more than ever, we need to remember that ‘the Sixties’ was about keeping hope in the world and faith in ourselves.”