The very title Easy Rider (1969) suggests a Taoist theme, for the movie wasn’t titled, Struggling Rider, but Easy Rider. Rather than struggling against Nature and the world, the motorcyclists were flowing with the Tao, the Way of Nature. This concept of ease and effortless action by going with the flow of Nature was called by Taoists, wu-wei. Certainly Easy Rider was a post-modern critique of commercialized, commoditized, sloganized America. Yes, it was a road-trip film, a buddy film, a motorcycle film, a gang film, as Roger Ebert points out in his review. It was all of those. But all true Journey myths — from Homers Odyssey to Tolkiens Lord of the Rings Trilogy — achieve a timeless quality by making the journey not merely a journey across space but a journey into Self. The motorcycles of Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Captain America (Peter Fonda) were not merely taking them on a journey to discover America, as is suggested by our textbook, but were taking them on the journey from the level of the ego to the level of the id and ultimately the collective unconscious.
Easy Rider tapped into an Aquarian Age zeitgeist that revolted against the artificiality and rampant commercialism of modern society. As Laurence Boldt explains in The Tao of Abundance, the Wests concept of nature as being separate from Man keeps him constantly in the mode of ego consciousness. Because we view ourselves as engaged in a willful struggle against nature — which we view as separate from ourselves — we therefore create an artificial society as a means to insulate ourselves from contact with nature. Mass production, advertising, and mass consumption conspire to keep modern man in a constant lack consciousness which Taoists and Buddhists would call ego-attachments. Taoists, however, had a concept of being in harmony with nature because they considered themselves as part of the same cosmic river, the Tao. Whereas the western concept of wealth centered on hoarding things, the eastern or Taoist concept of wealth centers on having an abundance of leisure time time to enjoy nature. By throwing off his wristwatch at the start of his journey, Captain America symbolizes his attunement with the Taoist concept of abundance — free time.
The Hippie movement was in large part a back-to-nature zeitgeist — fueled by a Taoist spirit. Captain America had definitely tapped into that zeitgeist when he said to the rancher: Its not every man who can live off the land, you know. You should be proud. It was also why he admired the Hippie commune. Easy Rider essentially makes the argument that when we lost our connection with the land we lost Thomas Jeffersons concept of the American Dream. This is reflected in the ACLU-attorney (Nicholson) George Hansons fireside critique of superficial people whose very lives are nothing more than a commodity bought and sold in the marketplace. To be freed from the metallic breast-milk of an artificial society is to return to the life-giving bosom of Mother Nature. The theme song of Steppenwolfs Born to Be Wild echoes this: Like a true natures child, we were born, born to be wild. The highway that returns the traveler to Nature is the same highway that leads to Natures most primal drives, buried within our unconsciousness.
Lacking any guru (for Yogi Bhajan would only arrive in L.A. in 1969), the bikers turned to drugs as their psychopomp to guide their souls into the underworld of the psyche. The progression of their choice of drugs represents the layers of the psyche. Cocaine, with its wiry energy, merely amplified their ego-consciousness, tying them to the physical world, the basis of the ego and its obligations of money and the endless rat-race. Marijuana, their favorite drug, however, opened them up to some of the layers of the id, the unconscious. It freed their minds from the limitations of the left-brained, rational, separative ego-consciousness and brought them to the right-brained, non-rational, whole-istic shores of the id. As a result of reminding them of their personal unconscious, the bikers were reawakened to their forgotten drives, the primal instincts of the libido, the sexual/creative life force. The unconscious material surfacing also allowed them to transcend the Herd Instinct and sublimate the fears associated with conformity. In The Psychedelic Experience, Dr. Timothy Leary advocated using LSD according to the method outlined in the Tibetan Book of the Dead as a means of exploring and mapping the far reaches of the inner world. In Easy Rider, the graveyard LSD trip opened up the other two primal instincts of the unconscious: the Survival Px7 primal flow Instinct and the Religious Instinct, along with the previously awakened Sexual Instinct.
Theoretically, as a result of allowing the buried complexes of the id to surface, the bikers would become more Whole, more integrated between the upper and lower, light and dark, aspects of the psyche. This enabled them to be more in touch with their te, their innate pattern of Being. (The Soul as Westerners commonly label it.) As a result of attuning to the te, the bikers gained a release, a sense of freedom to be ones self, naturally resulting in a Power, the power of te. The rednecks — representing the earth-bound ego — obviously were threatened by the bikers sense of te, and the dangers associated by a liberated and powerful libido. The bikers thus become Joseph Campbells Hero With a Thousand Faces. The egos very existence is threatened by the emerging Soul, just as surely as Set was threatened by the rise of Osiris, and Typhon was threatened by the rise of Apollo. The rise of the Solar Divinity heralded the Golden Dawn of the Souls awakening from its slumber in the depths of matter (Isis). This was a threat to the Dark Night of the Soul during the egos reign of terror over the realm of matter. It is the Steward of Gondors (ego) reluctance to hand over the throne of Middle-Earth to the exiled King (the Soul). As such, the awakening of the Secret Fire (the Sun God Within) stirs the complexes of the personal unconscious (Draco the Red Dragon) and the ego (Cetus the Sea-Beast) desperately wage war against the Virgin Mother (Virgo) who is attempting to give birth to the Solar Divinity (Christ). Like all avatars who awaken their Soul, they are martyred by those whose ego-existence is threatened by the liberating power of the Soul and the release of attachments to the mortal realm.
Captain Americas realization that we blew it was the realization that the never-ending quest for money and its artificial comforts — attained through the coke deal — are but the enslaving attachments of the ego. But by blasting the bikers with the shotgun of stasis, the rednecks merely replanted the Soul within Mother Nature, where the seeds will lie dormant. Until, that is, the Sun stops rising in Pisces and the Hero finally enters the constellation of Aquarius. Consciousness during the age of the Water-bearing Man will finally be much more fluid than during the dark age of the Fish Cult.