Thirty Years Ago, People Tried to Save the World By Meditating

Believers in the Harmonic Convergence traveled to places like Chaco Canyon and Stonehenge to welcome aliens, the resurrected Maya and wait for world peace

Campers near Chaco Canyon, N.M., gather together and look to the east to watch the sun rise on August 17, 1987, as part of the harmonic convergence. AP Photo/David Breslauer

Thirty years ago, New Age believers, pagans, meditation practitioners, hippies and the spiritually curious gathered at “energy centers” around the globe to let out a collective “OM.” The two-day event, which began on the 16th, was dubbed the Harmonic Convergence and is believed to be the first multi-national, simultaneous meditation event ever organized reports Margalit Fox at The New York Times.

The August 1987 events didn't occur on some random days. According to astrology, the two days were when most of the planets in the Solar System formed “trines” or roughly 120 degree angles that supposedly promoted harmony. It was believed that this alignment of the planets would trigger a new age of peace and harmony and “a major unification of souls with purpose on this planet.” Also, it was humanity’s only chance, some believed, to prevent the apocalypse; also, aliens.

The brainchild behind the event and its hazy theology was José Argüelles born Joseph Arguelles, a New Age theorist based in Boulder, Colorado, who initially hailed from Rochester, Minnesota. According to Fox, he earned a doctorate in art from the University of Chicago and taught art history at Princeton and other universities. But a dalliance with the 1960s and '70s counterculture, a struggle with alcoholism and a little LSD drew him out of the classroom and into the mystic, and he soon changed his name from Joseph to José and added an umlaut to his last name.

Argüelles began codifying a set of spiritual beliefs based on calendars, in particular the Mayan calendar. Fox reports that he believed the Gregorian calendar, used by the western world, chopped the year into unnatural cycles, and that humanity suffered because it was out of line with the natural order.

Argüelles study of the Mayan calendar convinced him that the world as we know it would end on the winter solstice of 2012; or aliens would appear; or people would reach a higher spiritual plane (his views changed over time). According to the Associated Press, he believed if 144,000 people across the world meditated together during the 1987 convergence, it would be the beginning of a cleansing process that would last until 1992. The mass meditation, he told the AP, was needed “to create a field of trust, ground the new vibrational frequencies coming in at the time.”

According to another AP story, Argüelles also wrote that the convergence was an entry point for the return of the Maya, which some Convergers would experience as an inner light and some would see as “feathered serpent rainbows turning in the air.”

Harmonic Convergence celebrations took place at 200 sites in the United States, most notably at Mount Shasta, Central Park, Chaco Canyon and Sedona, Arizona. Fifty other celebrations occurred at sites worldwide including Ayer’s Rock, Mount Fuji, Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Participants danced, drummed, chanted and meditated together with celebrities including Shirley MacLaine, John Denver and Timothy Leary taking part in the celebrations. Johnny Carson even had his studio audience chant “OM” on the day of the convergence.

“What was amazing about it was … this is going on worldwide, all over the place,” Pat Hogan, who participated in the Convergence in Vancouver, told Bethany Lindsay at CBC News in an interview this year. “It was supposed to be a time when the planets were in exceptional alignment. The idea of it was to raise the consciousness of the planet to bring about an age of peace and ... that we were moving into the Age of Aquarius, which was an age of brotherhood."

Argüelles had even grander expectations. “There may be UFO sightings, or there may not be,” he told CBS News, “but there will definitely be some type of communication of an extraterrestrial nature.”

It’s hard to say whether the Harmonic Convergence staved off the Apocalypse or spared humanity from decades of war, though it does not appear as if aliens made contact with Earth in 1987 or 2012. Sadly, Argüelles was not around long enough to see if his theories would come true. He died in 2011 at the age of 72.

The idea that mass meditation could have an impact on the world persists to this day, bolstered by the popularity of mindful meditation. In fact, the Global Consciousness Project has been investigating whether meditation can create a “coherent” human consciousness since 1998, and mass meditation events like The Big Quiet at Madison Square Garden and the Mass Meditation Initiative in Los Angeles draw thousands of participants. And of the course the biggest proponent of the idea that meditation can change the world is the Transcendental Meditation movement, which believes that if just one percent of a community practices its techniques, it can reduce crime and improve the quality of life for everyone.

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