Free-spirited therapist Ilene English takes readers on a colorful journey into the life of a grade-A hippie with her appropriately titled memoir, Hippie Chick: Coming of Age in the ’60s. From her early experiences with therapy and her relationships with addicts, to her own attraction to psychedelics, English has led a life that gave her deeper understanding of her role as a stained-glass artist, mother, and later, a California state-licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT).
Originally from New Jersey, Ilene English was still a teen when she embarked on carefree path that had her bouncing between California, Hawaii and Oregon. Throughout her different addresses, she experienced devastating deaths in her family as well as deaths of romantic relationships. Yet while her life has been punctuated by a series of losses, each privation served as a kind of catalyst for a new chapter in her life, and those chapters have come together in this earnest, pure memoir. “This book was a spiritual exploration for me, and in the process of writing it, I was transformed by the experience,” English said in a Q+A.
English moved to San Francisco after her big sister gave her a one-way plane ticket as a high school graduation gift. English then moved in with three guys in 1963, shortly before she had a legal procedure referred to as a “therapeutic abortion,” which required her to convince three psychiatrists that she would commit suicide if she had the child.
Through the process of living, learning, and writing, English comes to see that her cavalier attitude towards relationships with men underscored deeper issues of feeling less-than. While on the surface, the 1960s seemed like a free-love free-for-all, bolstered by the introduction of the birth control pill, it was actually somewhat counter to what she wanted and needed as a female. “[B]efore feminism it seemed less threatening to sleep with a guy than to make a scene by saying ‘no,’” she writes out in the book. “After all, we had been brought up to defer to men, respect their wishes, and listen wide-eyed to their opinions. So free love was really about men satisfying their own needs.”
Besides free love, another of the book’s cogent themes is the role psychedelics played on the author’s evolution as a human being. A self-described “Hebrew school dropout,” English believes that psychedelics are a valuable tool in that they enable us to develop our perceptions and to experience life on a different level. “Through peyote and other plant teachers I was opened wide, and got to see that it is a spiritual universe and that we are spiritual beings,” she writes. “But I still believe that our work here on this planet is to learn how to be a human being.”
Today, English remains a big advocate of psychedelic therapy for healing and recommends reading Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
“What I believe is that psychedelics can be a sacred portal that take us to a world beyond this one,” writes English. “Under their influence, I accessed a well of wisdom and love that most people will never even know exists. It was as if a deeply held secret was somehow revealed to me. I have always felt humbled to have had a fleeting glance of another world besides this one.”
During her 70-plus years on this planet, English has used her natural curiosity, itinerant sensibility, and inherent drive to help others while helping herself. Hippie Chick is a valuable reminder that we are a sum of our life choices, and that oftentimes, the most painful lessons are the most valuable. The most important part is to give ourselves some slack, and to let those around us help when they want to. In the words of the author, “When people feel seen and accepted, that is when real healing begins to happen.”