Messages in spirituality from Jerry Garcia

I just finished watching the first episode of “Long Strange Trip,” a documentary about The Grateful Dead on Amazon Prime. There were several recorded interviews with Jerry Garcia included in this episode and some of Jerry’s words caught my attention.

The first thing that caught my attention was the meaning behind this much beloved band’s name. To relate the story best, allow me to use Jerry’s own words, “In confronting your own death, you learn how to live.”

Throughout the first episode Jerry mentions that the key to the band’s success came from pursuing happiness and facing their fears. This struck me as pertinent to My Reflections from a Course in Miracles series.

First; I identified with the idea of facing fears, as this seems to come up no matter whose success story I am reading; it seems to be a key to their success. Jerry experienced his father’s death at a young age and found himself fascinated with death. In the opening scenes of the documentary, Jerry tells how watching scary movies helped him learn to face his fears. The irony for me in telling this story is that I absolutely hate being scared. I run from fear, perhaps this is another reason confronting fear is so pervasive in my writing; Fear is my obstacle, and the obstacle is the way.   When we face our fears, we learn what we are made of, we learn how much strength and courage we actually have, we learn to recognize our true grit.

The next pertinent spiritual aspect of their story that caught me came from the convergence of sounds. The band members came each came from different musical backgrounds; blue grass, folk, classical. In forming the band, Jerry describes how practice made the difference, lots and lots of practice. When we hear people discuss the law of attraction and the manifestation of success, wealth and abundance, we often hear how we can have whatever we want, we just have to want it bad enough. The piece of this equation most of us miss is that you have to want it bad enough to go and get it and that means putting in the work. A person who dreams of being a musician practices for many hours and often suffers many failures or denials before finding their big break. Doctors spend years in college, medical school, residency and fellowship before practicing their preferred medicine and many more years are required before becoming a premier physician, you have to put in the work. It really comes down to how bad you want it, but wanting it is not enough, you have to want it bad enough to work for it. Jerry and the boys were crammed into one house for many years as they started their career. Things were not always perfect, but they just kept at it. As they say in Twelve Step traditions, “It works if you work it.”

The third nugget of wisdom I derived from this first episode is also about the music. Jerry describes how when this group of men joined in music, a secret to their success was that they allowed the instruments to talk to one another. By reserving judgment, about the different musical style backgrounds they each came from, they were able to join these diverse instruments to form a unique and successful sound. In order to do so, they had to let go of the ego (judgment) and let the instruments do the talking. The music found its own way to communicate through them.

Finally, aside from their much beloved music which inspired a cult following and culture that has lasted for over 50 years; the band appealed to the beat nick culture; the pre-hipsters who enjoyed art, music and poetry and loved to learn and read. The Grateful dead was not about being popular or trendy. Ironically, that very attitude became a trend itself. In describing the band, Jerry Garcia said, “The Grateful Dead is nothing more about having fun.” This brings us full circle to the band’s name; in learning to confront their own fears, the Grateful dead learned how to live and created for themselves an impressive life, fully experienced and doing what they loved; making music. What could be more fulfilling than a life of fun and love and working at something you are passionate about.

Even if Grateful Dead music is not your cup of tea, I think there are valuable lessons in this documentary and fascinating stories about a counter-culture I see is perhaps on the cusp of re-emerging. Through convergence of Eastern and Western cultures there seems to be a push towards change. I am not talking about cultural politics, I am referring to the kind of change that comes from a world of people who pursue their passion and live from the heart.. that seems to be the message behind the culture of dead heads and one that I experience myself through yoga, meditation and ecstatic dance.

The irony in finding these messages in music from my youth is not lost on me, there is a reason, a synchronicity in the things that call to us, even from a young age, I am only now just discovering them because I have opened my eyes and my heart.