Pilgrimage of Change
"...you get the cosmic badge of honor
pinned on you...when you can dance on totally nothing."
with Elizabeth Gips
Born half-paralyzed in 1922, and dictating poetry four years later
Elizabeth Gips had interviewed most of the people in the two volumes of
Mavericks of the Mind long before we even got started Her infamous radio
show Changes, which has now aired in
northern California far over twenty years, has inspired countless
individuals to explore new realms of heightened awareness. She is well
known for her lively interviews with virtually everyone who is anyone in
the alternative cultural matrix. Her recently published book
Scrapbook of a Haight-Ashbury Pilgrim is an important historical
document, a timeless epic adventure that overflows with contagious
enthusiasm inspired during the peak of San Francisco js citywide
hallucinogenic experience during the late sixties.
Needless to say, Elizabeth has been through a lot of changes herself:
She discovered her power to arouse the emotions in others in 1939, when
she got out of high school a year early because her English teacher threw
an ink bottle at her in frustration. She then attended Mills College,
discovered beat poetry, and marijuana, and had a number of experiences
"falling in love with the wrong boys. " In 1964 her son turned her on to
the peyote cactus, and she metamorphosed into an "errant hippie, "
wandering around the U.S. trailing after charismatic commune-founder
Stephen Gaskin. She landed on "the Farm" in Tennessee (the well-known
commune at which, according to Gaskin, a young Al Gore spent some time).
In 1971 Elizabeth left the Farm and started doing radio at her son 's
station, KDNA in St. Louis. She began her Santa Cruz radio show, Changes,
in 1975 and soon started writing articles and reviews for many alternative
At the age of seventy-one, Elizabeth, now a grandmother; is still
very much at the forefront of cultural evolution. She still loves doing
radio, is working on several new books, has apparently fallen in love with
the "right man, " and says that she no longer seeks "enlightenment. " We
interviewed her in her cozy home in Santa Cruz on June 10, 1994. Her house
is decorated with compelling psychedelic art and exotic religious
artifacts from around the world. Youthful optimism and vibrant enthusiasm
stream from Elizabeth 's spirit. She is filled with curiosity, and her
eyes and heart both seem wide open. A passion-filled fireball of energy,
Elizabeth gets very excited when she's talking, and laughs a lot.
Sometimes like a fountain, other times like a volcano, she is just
bursting with life, spewing forth a stream of amazing adventures stories
and rainbow revelations, reminding us of those feel-good times in our
lives when laughing, loving, and learning all danced hand in hand.
Elizabeth: Do you want to know all my names?
David & Rebecca: Okay.
Elizabeth: Isis, Tara, Sisyphus....(laughter)
Rebecca: Who's Sisyphus?
Elizabeth: He was the guy who had to push a big stone up a hill
indefinitely and every day and every night it would tumble down. I did a
picture a few years back which shows Sisyphus sitting up on the top of the
hill like Rodin's thinker. There's a large crowd of people down at the
bottom and he's saying something like, "I got wise, there's hundreds of
people who want to push this stone up the hill, I don't have to do it any
David:: How did your experiences in Haight Ashbury during the sixties
influence who you are today?
Elizabeth: There's a film called St. Simon the Skylight. In the end
Simon is in a rock club and the devil is tempting him. He says to the
devil, "I think I'd like to go back and stand on my pillar again for the
rest of my life," and she says, (the devil's a woman) "it's too late,
someone else is doing it." Well, someone else is doing the Haight Ashbury
trip, and I'm hardly enough of that person anymore, except in my book.
I'm sure that it freed me to a great extent from the American need of
identification through stuff - money and business power etc.. I went
through a long period of poverty, although I didn't experience it as
poverty, I just didn't have money. So that made the new acquisition of
some stuff very joyful - I'm really enjoying having things around
again.(laughter) But it was a dramatic shift in values.
Rebecca: What were you doing before?
Elizabeth: I was a big business woman. I had 52 employees. My jewelry
business did just under half a million in the last year before I left.
Then I opened a store on Haight street.
David & Rebecca: (Knowing laughter)
Elizabeth: Well, I bought a mansion on Ashbury and that was the
significant thing because I took acid shortly after that. And I walked out
of everything - my marriage and my business and my whole way of life. I
took all of my clothes and jewelry and threw them into the middle of the
floor and said, "everybody dig in - I'm gone."
Rebecca: Could you describe the quality of that time, and what were
your hopes and dreams of what would come out of the sixties?
Elizabeth: A word that I use a lot in my book is `spirit.' It's as
though for the first time, a whole bunch of people took part in the
mystical experience, and there was that camaraderie of shared experience
beyond the realm of the American standard. If you wanted to merchandise
the American standard experience, experiencing Godhead was not
Rebecca: So the fact that the experience was shared and not just
personal made a big difference?
Elizabeth: I think so. You are here doing an interview to share more of
what I am and more of what you are and that sharing of experience is how
Rebecca: Many people feel that during the `80's, the last vestiges of
the sixties idealism got swept away. Do you think that's true or did some
lasting influence come out of that time?
Elizabeth: I think that there are more young people aware today than
there ever have been in the history of the world and that the best part of
the rave generation is proof of it. Hundreds and thousands of people all
over the world between 18 and 25 are sharing a spiritual experience with
tribal overload and huge sensory input. There was a continuity of spirit
that got bigger and bigger, and even though many people became yuppies
(it's okay to be yuppie and be comfortable, but we didn't know that in the
Haight Ashbury) I don't think that they have entirely forgotten who they
But in that time we really thought that in five years everything would
be changed. We thought we would find better ways of communicating, which
we have, that marijuana would be legal and that people would be nicer to
each other - that's the bottom line.
Rebecca: Do you think people are nicer to each other?
Elizabeth: (pause) I think there are more people working on how to be
nicer to each other.
David:: What relevance do you think this period will have on the
Elizabeth: It was the first time that a significant number of people
assumed that evolution could be consciously directed. I think that's what
the future holds as we travel around in the mystery - the idea that we can
mold a world that's better for everyone. I know it's simplistic, but I
think that's one of the things that came out of the Haight Ashbury period.
And I'm not sure that it isn't happening under our very noses, but we
forget and let the media play on our negative feelings which we've still
certainly got plenty of.
David:: How would you say psychedelics influenced your perspective on
Elizabeth: Holy Mackerel Andy! Well, I was an atheist and now I'm
nothing. Boy, that's a big change! (laughter) I just had the experience!
You can't talk about it, c'mon!
Rebecca: Well, if we met you before the experience and then met you
afterwards, what differences might we notice?
Elizabeth: Well, let's talk about the similarities. You'd see the same
bounciness and intelligence and creativity and insecurities. But right
after I began taking psychedelics I was kind of messianic - I wanted
everyone to get on board because otherwise maybe it was all just a dream
and it never really happened. My hair was long and I painted my face and I
wore elk skin dresses - it was kind of romantic but too outrageous for
society. It became too much trouble to stay in that place.
Rebecca: Do you think that if you hadn't taken psychedelics you would
have still arrived where you are now, through a gradual process of natural
Elizabeth: They switched me to a whole other quantum level. If
electrons jump from one ring to another I made a jump, and things are not
the same. I'm a human chauvinist in a way because I think there's
something very special about the human brain. If I can take a tiny pill
and 45 minutes later I've died to my personality and am in contact with
realities that are seemingly infinitely unfolding, then it seems that the
human brain has some special place in the whole drama of the universe.
David:: Was there any link between your taking psychedelics and getting
involved in broadcast media?
Elizabeth: I followed Stephen Gaskin and I only lasted about seven
months down on the farm in Tennessee. Partly because of the power trips
but I think the poverty got to me too. I was enough of a cult head to go
pretty psychotic. I found myself walking around San Francisco crying
hysterically and finally I got on the train to go back to Tennessee
because I didn't know what else to do with myself - I didn't think that I
could fit into any kind of society.
I prayed for guidance. I said, "listen Jesus if there's an energy or a
force that you represent, I need help." I landed up visiting my son in St.
Louis who had a station called KBNA that was outrageous, there was nothing
like it on the air, and the folks there said, "why don't you just stay
here and learn how to do radio." I never went back to the farm.
David:: Have your views on the use of technology changed over the
Elizabeth: I always wanted to use technology for it's highest good and
that has not changed. I thought that in learning to communicate with one
another in new ways we could somehow help each other more to stay `alove'
and that's what technology should be used for.
Rebecca: It seems that many people confuse the tool with the
Elizabeth: There's a Zen proverb that says you should not confuse the
finger pointing at the moon with the moon, and that's true whether it's
psychedelics or anything else. But I think technology is a miracle. I sat
in my room last night listening to music written 200 years by someone I've
never heard of - isn't that amazing?! (laughter)
David:: It seems that we're developing more and more ways to access the
whole universe from a single point.
Elizabeth: That's nice. It seems that we've invented timespace to play
some game I don't understand.
Rebecca: Has the game become less serious for you over time?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I'm working on that more consciously. But you should
have seen me when the cat disappeared the other day, I was just as
attached as anybody could be.
Rebecca: You've interviewed such an extraordinary variety of
philosophers, scientists and thinkers. How has your interactions with
people who have such differing belief systems influenced your
multi-faceted view of reality?
Elizabeth: To begin with I couldn't have done the interviewing if I
already didn't have a multi-faceted view of reality. I have had a really
charmed life in many ways. One of the things is that I was exposed to all
different kinds of music and arts from a very early age, so I know a
little bit of this and a little bit of that. The other side of it is that
I find it really hard to read anymore. I want my information to come fast
and precise and verbally at me. I don't want to ready a hundred words when
two would be enough. There are other things I want to do, like work in my
Rebecca: When we started out compiling the first volume of Mavericks of
the Mind, I think we were a little too deferential. We would think, "Oh,
he's got the answer, or no she's got the answer." Now it's more like a
dance where the mind waltzes with an idea for a while which then moves
back and becomes part of the flow.
Elizabeth: I think that the secret of success, when you get the cosmic
badge of honor pinned on you, is when you can dance on totally nothing. No
concepts, no grids, no graphs, no formula, you just dance and you're
David:: What do you do without a context?
Elizabeth: There are contexts but they're always shifting - contexts
within contexts within contexts, continuity and change.
David:: What were some of the most memorable experiences you've had
during your years of interviewing?
Elizabeth: Sometimes I get bonded in that hour or hour and a half and
all I want to do is hug them and to heck with this talk. (laughter) I've
always thought that it would be great to do a book of interviews with
unknowns. It's unfortunate that we put so much emphasis on people whose
names have become known. But there are a lot of people on the streets who
have a great deal to offer. I think that everyone knows everything
basically, it's just a matter of education, training and luck whether that
knowledge expands and blossoms or gets trodden down by fear.
David:: You mentioned how one of the results you've seen from the
sixties is that spiritual awareness has increased, but what does
spirituality mean to you?
Elizabeth: (long pause) I would rather not use the word spirituality,
but I don't know what else to use. It's the number of levels of awareness
reaching to a level where there is absolute identification with all atoms
of the universe in all the different realms that there are.
I think that it has something to do with the peculiar and unique
properties of the human brain and something to do with not being afraid of
accessing all the different realities. The psychedelics are medicines to
teach us how to utilize more of the brain and access the many, perhaps
infinite, levels of reality. Spirituality is when we know that there is
neither form nor no form.
David:: What's your perspective on God then?
Elizabeth: Well, what's God's perspective on me? That's what I'd like
to know! (laughter) Unfortunately the word has terrible connotations
because of the Judeo-Christian web that most of us have been born into in
this part of the world. The other thing is that humans are incredible
chauvinists so they assume that somehow God or Goddess have human
attributes. There are so many Gods and Goddesses that have been invented
since humans began to think about this that it's very crowded up there!
I think there is a matrix of an energy that's beyond our capacity to
touch until we can develop our brains more. And maybe this matrix, perfect
intelligence or whatever you want to call it, really wanted to feel more
so it invented humans in order to enjoy all this beautiful stuff. If a
tree falls in the forest, there's no sound if no one is there to hear it.
Rebecca: Except for the birds and rabbits.
Elizabeth: But I think we're better transmitters than animals. They
don't have this, damnable sometimes, capacity for self-reflection. They
don't know that they know.
David:: How do you know that?
Elizabeth: I don't know how I know. I just know. I think humans have a
greater capacity to enjoy and suffer, and to think about it.
David:: You think self-reflection causes suffering because when you
reflect on the past or imagine the future you're not experiencing the
Elizabeth: If you reflect on the past and imagine the future you're
doing it right now. There is no other time.
Rebecca: In what ways do you think that you experience suffering as
opposed to that bird singing outside your window right now?
Elizabeth: I think about my suffering and I know that I'm suffering and
the bird knows in a whole different way. (bird begins singing more loudly)
To get back to the Haight Ashbury, I think what we hoped for and what I do
see evidence of in the ecological movement and the feminist movement and
the touchy-feely workshops, is this desire of many people on many
different levels to feel better, feel more aware and to understand more.
If there are infinite possibilities, my favorite scenario is that we
get our heads together and choose to shape our destiny. Maybe we've
already done it. The vibration right this minute is really different from
what it was an hour ago when you guys first came in. We're being less
social, in some ways we're being more real, but it's a different reality.
David:: What relationship do you see between sexuality and the creative
Elizabeth: The tangible universe in which we exist is the result of a
giant orgasm - they call it the Big Bang don't they? (laughter) And it's
always happening. And then on a smaller scale, sex is creativity, that's
how we make the next generation of stuff. I think the reason that we are
so, excuse the expression, `fucked up' about sex is that it's an
absolutely guaranteed way to get high and people are so afraid to get
David:: Why do you think that people are scared of getting high? Is it
because they are so attached to their egos?
Elizabeth: Their brain isn't ready for it. They don't know themselves
any other way. They have to have more experience just like all of us do on
one level or another. Have you ever read descriptions of tantric rituals
where there are maybe thirteen men and thirteen women and the woman
actually goes from one male to another and sees God in each partner and
they just keep coming and coming but don't reach orgasm?
Rebecca: You've been describing the process of growing into something
more through mystical experience and yet at the same time you are also
describing a process of individuation. What is coming out of your self
when you dissolve your self?
Elizabeth: A crystal pulls to itself out of the elements what it needs
to complete its form and what accrues to it are separate entities and yet
it is all one thing. They don't lose their individuation any more than the
cell in your hand does, it's just part of something bigger. And I don't
see any need for us to die in order to have this wonderful experience of
Rebecca: How has your relationships with men influenced your life?
Elizabeth: My relationships have been my anchor throughout my life.
Trying to get validation as a woman through my relationship with a man and
setting myself up so it couldn't happen led to some incredibly bad
relationships. I spent ten years alone until I met Paddy, my present
partner. I got old and that helped a lot!
We've been together for eight years and we still have our moments of
working things out, but how I ever lucked out enough to have a man who is
so helpful, I don't know. I couldn't do half of what I do without him.
He's so wonderful and supportive, and so kind. One of my cosmic laws is
`The higher up the fewer,' which I got from my mother. The second one is,
`It takes one to know one.' The third one is the most important, it's a
real heavy koan and I hope everyone takes it seriously as is its due, and
that it `There's nothing more important than petting the cat.'
I think that our emotional patterning in some ways reacting with our
gestalt are less than optimum and we deserve as a birthright to be really
healthy and happy. I had to get over a lot of stuff in my relationships. I
was battered twice and that helped me get over it - I was really grateful.
I wasn't grateful at the time of course. I realized that if I only was
battered once it would always have been his fault but after I got battered
by two different guys I had to say, "what the hell am I doing to bring
Women or men, we can help each other to see, but it's usually the very
thing that we need to see the most that we back off from and say, "she's
doing it or he's doing it or the world's doing it." A sense of
responsibility can lead to self love which is necessary in order to love
Rebecca: Do you think that men and women are very different in the way
Elizabeth: I've always lived in a world where the men and women are
conditioned into roles that seem to me less than optimum and I don't know
if they are different until we live in a society where there is a lot more
room for us to be who we are. But I see that your generation is a lot less
conditioned than I was.
Rebecca: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Elizabeth: I don't like to call myself anything with "ist" on the end
of it. (laughter)
David:: What did you learn from raising your children?
Elizabeth: Well, one of my children is brain-damaged. It leads to a
different relationship with yourself when you have a handicapped child -
it's a love hate thing. There's a lot of self-blame, a lot of self-pity, a
lot of anger. I think I'm over most of that. That's been a huge learning.
And my other child is a genius and has been super wonderful to me in many
ways. I turned him onto marijuana but he was the first person to turn me
onto a psychedelic in about `64. He helped me when I had absolutely no
money and he turned me onto radio - what more could I ask?
Rebecca: What would you like to tell young people today?
Elizabeth: I asked my mother that when she was ninety something. She
said, "don't worry about it." That's my advice to young people. Be nice to
each other and when you're feeling really bad is the best time to reach
out your hand to somebody else. It makes you feel a lot better and you'll
help someone in the process. Enjoy the world, have a good time and listen
to good rock!
Rebecca: That's good advice, there's some really bad rock around. It
seems though that in spite of all the positive movement going on in the
world there's a seemingly equally powerful grip effect resisting the
Elizabeth: I don't think that's true. I think that's part of the
programming that we're trying to get rid of. The ideals of democracy -
freedom of thought, and the ideals of communism - sharing the bounty with
our fellow humans, are incredible ideals. Maybe the two will come together
one day. I think that the aberrations are fewer and that the ideals, no
matter how they are denigrated by our fear and lack of experience, are
more numerous. Imagine My an arrow that's balanced out, and on one side is
evil and one side is good and it's all one thing. Suppose we take the
arrow and shift it in timespace so that the evil is now what the good is
today and the good is something that we're not yet equipped to even
Rebecca: So we're raising the baseline you think?
Elizabeth: I don't think it can't happen.
Terence McKenna says 2012, but I'm
David:: Elizabeth, what is the secret to your seemingly
boundless enthusiasm, optimism and curiosity about life?
Elizabeth: Marijuana! (lengthy raucous laughter)
From my father I inherited sentimentality and an idea of being gentle with
people and from my mother I inherited enormous energy and creative
ability. My body's amazing. You know, I'm really sick and I've got so much
energy, I swam half a mile today and then I was digging my yard before it
got too hot. I can't breathe you understand me but I'm doing it!(laughter)
Rebecca: I'm interested in how your illness has affected
your understanding of your self?
Elizabeth: Well, on a really stupid level I sure as hell
wish I hadn't smoked tobacco. I wrote an article in Encore called
Disease as a Spiritual Practice. When I'm really not feeling well, I
find it effects all levels inside of me. I admire the people who seem to
be above that. However, I'm 72 and even if I lived to be a really old
person it would only be another twenty years or so and I don't want to
live to be that old. My disease has helped me to more and more be grateful
for my life, and I'm grateful that I'm dying slowly because it gives me an
opportunity to work on myself and to die in a state of grace.
David:: What do you think happens after biological death?
Elizabeth: Oh joy! How wonderful! Wow! look at this, I'm
back home again! (laughter) What do I think happens when you die?
Man, I don't know. If anyone tells you they know what happens after you
die, don't believe them! I get scared of not going to die, that's really
frightening to me. My brain isn't afraid to die, but my body doesn't want
to. I really love my life.
Rebecca: What's going on in the future of your dreams?
Elizabeth: I don't think we know what we are becoming.
Maybe there will be a place where we actually drop form and become a
different energy altogether. The worst-case scenario is that we'll blow
ourselves up, in which case we'll have to start another experiment. I
believe that that what we truly are is absolutely immortal.
The middle-case scenario is that whatever happens to humans, the world
is shifting. Australia is moving two feet a year. It's going to hit the
IndoEuropean continent and create mountains twice as high as the
Himalayas. So you've got to get some perspective on this! (laughter) I
hope that not too long in the distant future we'll be able to access
now-hidden realms of consciousness-before something catastrophic happens,
like a meteor hitting the earth.
In the shorter term, I really feel that we are going to create new ways
of governance that will make the present forms look medieval, new ways of
healing the body, new ways of opening ourselves so that telepathic
communication can be easier between us and I won't be ashamed of the fact
that you know some of the horrible images in my mind.
Rebecca: Your radio show is called Changes, and it seems
that your whole life has been a series of transformations. What do you
think is the secret of learning to roll with those changes?
Elizabeth: I think Buddha's message of nonattachment is
very helpful, but I'm not sure that I don't want to be attached to some
things. I really enjoy people and beautiful objects, and I'm not ready to
let go. On my first big acid trip I wrote a note to myself. In wiggly
letters it said, "Hold on by letting go." I believe that's vald, and it's
at least a lifetime in the learning.
Rebecca: Where do you get the courage to let go?
Elizabeth: Well, I don't always have it. But sometimes
just the invitation of the possibilities in life is so enormous. As I've
gotten older, I've gotten around to thinking that I don't like changing so
much--the overt form, anyway. In many ways, old age is a process of
letting go--of stuff on the 3D plane, of emotional contacts with your
friends and relatives who are dying, and of lifestyles. Also, the memory
dropping away may be a blessing, because it narrows your focus to what's
happening in front of you right now.
David:: If you could condense your life into a message,
what would that be?
Elizabeth: I think the human birthright is joy and that
the only thing that keeps us from that is fear. I urge everyone to break
the habits that they know have chained them in circular patterns of fear
and to open themselves up to the fact that once that fear is gone, it's
gone for ever, it will never return! Be content in the passing magic, but
work for change, knowing that there really isn't any other work to do.
This may be an illusion, a dream, but it's a real illusion, worth working
with toward the perfection we knew was possible when we ingested so much
LSD. The rest of human activity, even beauty and art and ritual and
religion, are frosting on the cake of conscious growing. Let the
challenges come. Reach out to help and to be helped. Listen respectfully
to all teachers and teaching, including this, and find your own truth,
knowing that it too will change. When our work has succeeded, the human
race will know the joy of an open heart, and that is our entry into a
kindergarten beyond which are infinite and infinitely exciting universes
to explore forever.
Finally, to use the old analogy, we can learn to focus on the half-full
part of the cosmic cup. When enough of us recognize that our joint
thoughts can be directed to change this reflexive universe in a direction
we choose, we will recreate the cup, and it will brim over for everybody.