I can’t walk you out in the morning dew, my honey. I can’t walk you out in the morning dew today.
By The Deadhead Cyclist
Although she died in 1975, my maternal grandmother, Ruth Raben, née Issakson, has remained with me in spirit, throughout my life. My Grandma played a starring role in some of my fondest childhood memories, and her passing was my first, true encounter with death. I often wonder what her reaction would be if she were able to witness the world her grandchildren and great grandchildren now live in.
One obvious example is the iPhone. Imagine what someone born in the early 1900s, who lived through the depression and two world wars, who struggled to make ends meet as a working-class mother in the ’30s and ’40s, would think about a hand-held device that enables us to talk to anyone in the world – including the option of real time “video telephony” – provides access to a volume of information that surpasses all of the libraries on Earth, takes and stores photos and videos, and allows us to listen to a concert we attended – or wish we’d attended – decades ago!
Now, turn the tables and try to envision what the world will look like a half century down the road. Is it that far-fetched to conceive of the possibility that at some point in the future we’ll be able to travel back in time to attend a concert that took place many years prior, say March 2nd, 1969 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, the Deadhead Cyclist’s choice for T.W.I.G.D.H.? Thinking ahead a couple of generations causes us to consider how the choices we make today – individually and collectively – will have a profound impact on the world we will leave behind for future generations.
Last week’s piece focused on the spiritual awakening – specifically the “Ego Death” – experienced by the users of LSD and other psychedelic substances, and the role of the mid-60s Acid Tests in the Hippie movement and the Grateful Dead community. We concluded with a focus on the feeling of gratitude that follows from a healthy acceptance of our mortality – hence the term, “Grateful Dead” – and presented the choice between an egocentric life based upon fear, versus a more humble, harmonious existence in which we play a small, but integral role among our fellow Earthlings.
In 1967, a Harvard University clinical psychologist by the name of Timothy Leary spoke at a gathering of 30,000 Hippies in Golden Gate Park, called the “Human Be-In.” It was at this event that Dr. Leary gave wings to the phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Leary was an advocate of the use of psychedelics – hence the “turn on” portion of this famous slogan of the counterculture era – as a means of inspiring a new generation to reject the injustices of the Vietnam War-era mainstream culture, and to achieve the same humble gratitude that was an integral aspect of the Grateful Dead community. But is “turning on” the only way to achieve these aims?
My first Ego Death experience had nothing to do with the use of psychedelics. As I stood over the open coffin of my beloved Grandma, I confronted my own death through hers, in a way that had as significant an impact on me as any acid trip ever could. In that moment I realized that one day I will be in the coffin, and that my “self” is meaningful only in the sense that I leave something behind that is meaningful to others – to the collective – just as my Grandma did for me.
No matter how we get there – whether through a psychedelic experience, the death of a loved one, a starry night, or any other experience that causes us to step outside of the illusion of ourselves as the central actor in a story of our own design – the Ego Death principle must live on.
Another non-psychedelic means of achieving such a level of humility is to go outside on a clear night, completely sober, look up at the sky and consider the following mind-blowing facts:
- Our Sun is one of more than 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and our galaxy is one of more than 100 million galaxies in the universe. One million Earths can fit inside the Sun.
- Light travels at a speed of 186,282 miles per second; It takes eight minutes and 20 seconds for light from the Sun – which is 93 million miles from Earth – to reach us.
- A car ride to the nearest star, Sirius, AKA, the “Dog Star” (see Lost Sailor lyrics) at 70 miles per hour would take more than 356 billion years. Sirius is nearly six trillion miles away and some 25 times as luminous as the Sun.
Still feel big and important?
Ego Death isn’t unique to the psychedelic model. In fact, the notion of loss of self is a fundamental human experience that’s been the subject of psychospiritual paths ranging from ancient mysticism to modern Jungian psychology. Muslim Sufis, such as Rumi (1207-1273), referred to it as “Fanaa,” or, “to die before one dies”; Medieval Jewish Kabbalists called it “the kiss of death.” For eternity there’s been an unmistakable attraction to the notion that, “He (the ego) has to die,” in order for the highest human potential to come forward.
Which begs the question: Why do we continue to carry this torch, given the seeming failure of the Hippie movement? Given that we still face the same problems that were at play in the ’60s – endless wars, corrupt leadership, racial injustice, environmental destruction, economic inequality – isn’t this an example of the definition of insanity attributed to Einstein in the famous saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?”
The answer may be found in this lyric from the song, Morning Dew, which, fittingly, follows immediately after Death Don’t Have No Mercy in this week’s featured show:
I can’t walk you out in the morning dew, my honey.
I can’t walk you out in the morning dew today.
The Grateful Dead’s cover of this folk song by Canadian singer-songwriter Bonnie Dobson was released on the band’s first album, and first performed at the aforementioned Human Be-In event at which Timothy Leary advised the audience to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Like Not Fade Away, Big River, Good Lovin’, Samson and Delilah, and numerous other covers, the band made Morning Dew their own, leading many Deadheads to assume it was a Grateful Dead original. Similarly, many are unaware that the song is a conversation between the last surviving couple in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.
No matter how we get there – whether through a psychedelic experience, the death of a loved one, a starry night, or any other experience that causes us to step outside of the illusion of an exaggerated sense of self-importance – the Ego Death principle of so many traditions, including the Hippie movement, must live on. Acting out of Ego leads to greed, hate and war. Or as conveyed in the tune, Throwing Stones, “I’ve got mine and you’ve got yours.” Humility leads to generosity, love and peace. The fact that this great endeavor is still a work in progress is not evidence of its failure; rather, it is proof of the need to protect the flame and continue to pass the torch forward.
Whether we can continue to walk out together in the morning dew of this beautiful life is what hangs in the balance.
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