When I awoke, the Dire Wolf – 600 pounds of sin – was grinning at my window, all I said was, “Come on in.”
By The Deadhead Cyclist
In 1974, around the same time I became a Deadhead, I came across a wonderful little book that made a permanent impression on me, called, “How to Make Your Life Work or Why Aren’t You Happy?” At the time, I found the central message in this book so compelling that I have retained it over several decades and used it as a life-guiding principle. This now-obscure book was a collaborative effort that featured the work of Ken Keyes (not to be confused with Ken Kesey), a prominent countercultural figure, the author of 15 books (including the Handbook to Higher Consciousness) selling millions of copies, and the creator of the Living Love self-help system.
The premise of this book is that the parent of all unhappiness is unfulfilled expectations, and the key to happiness lies in our ability to understand our expectations and demands as addictions, offering this simple definition:
An addiction is something conditioned into your body or mind which, if not satisfied, automatically triggers a negative emotion…anger, fear, jealousy, anxiety, resentment, sorrow, etc., etc., etc.
This perspective on addiction is broader than that which focuses narrowly on substances – such as opiates and alcohol – or actions – such as gambling, shopping and overeating. Here the focus is on the addiction to controlling the people and situations in our midst. Keyes asserts that this very common pattern of behavior is the sole cause of unhappiness, and that we can achieve happiness “100% of the time” by recognizing and treating it as an addiction.
Drilling down deeper into this well of wisdom, replacing the rigidity of expectations with the greater flexibility of preferences can free us from the negative emotions that inevitably follow when our self-imposed expectations aren’t met. By contrast, when a preference isn’t met, strong negative emotions are held at bay and exchanged for milder and more manageable feelings of disappointment. In short, the difference lies in letting go of an addiction to certain outcomes in life, and adopting a more accepting, “what may come” attitude.
Whether or not adopting this approach will lead to happiness 100% of the time, as promised, taking responsibility for our lives in this way is empowering in that we learn to take control of our own destiny, rather than enabling external influences to determine our experience. Living by this principle places us firmly in the driver’s seat of our own life, and not in the passenger seat of a journey being directed by people and situations beyond our control.
When habit develops into addiction – particularly the addiction to the ill-fated endeavor of controlling the world that surrounds us – we have paid the price of admission for the Dire Wolf and his 600 pounds of sin to enter our lives.
This “higher consciousness” style of living mirrors closely the alternative creed the Grateful Dead lived by and modeled. The culture we live in constantly tries to seduce us with its many varied addictive offerings – trading time for money, ever increasing amounts of debt, a diet of unhealthy food, absorption in social media, the acquisition of more and more “stuff.” The Dead would have none of that; for better and for worse they lived and played under their own terms, and inspired their followers to do the same.
T.W.I.G.D.H. features a pair of shows that represent a classic example of the Grateful Dead’s “do it our way” style. On 2/13/70 and 2/14/70, the band took their act to a new level at New York’s legendary Fillmore East, punctuated with an acoustic set on each night that flew in the face of expectations of what a “rock band” was. The return to the Dead’s folk/jug band roots was memorialized on Side One of the 1973 album, History of the Grateful Dead, Volume 1 (Bear’s Choice). (The “Bear’s Choice” part of the title is a reference to then-audio engineer and pioneer LSD chemist, Owsley “Bear” Stanley.)
Although promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, on the lower east side of Manhattan, was open for just a short time (March, 1968 to June, 1971), this was a rock palace of significant proportion in the history of rock music. From the Allman Brothers Band and Jimi Hendrix to Traffic and Led Zeppelin, this venue was arguably the East Coast music epicenter for a brief but vital period in rock music history.
The Grateful Dead played a total of 43 shows at the Fillmore East, and recorded numerous live albums there, most notably “Skull and Roses,” which commemorates their March, 1971 appearances. The 2/13/70 and 2/14/70 shows are widely considered the most memorable of the Dead’s concerts at the venue, and eventually became the subjects of the 1996 release, Dick’s Picks, Volume 4, featuring the famous 30-minute Dark Star from the first night. In a 1993 poll of Grateful Dead tape traders, the 2/13 show ranked #2 all time among the tapes that were available at that time, second only to the 5/8/77 recording from Cornell University’s Barton Hall.
During each of these nights, one of the more “Deadaphoric” tunes in the band’s repertoire, Dire Wolf, made its way into the set list. Literally speaking, the Dire Wolf was a species of canine that lived in the Americas and Eastern Asia before it went extinct some 9500 years ago. Deadaphorically speaking, the Dire Wolf’s identity is somewhat more mysterious.
Given the repetitious entreaty, “Please, don’t murder me,” it’s clear that the Dire Wolf would be considered life-threatening by any definition. But it isn’t until the third verse that we begin to understand that the 600-pound beast represents our addictions, and that our willingness to cave in to those addictions is something we do at our own peril. In facing this insidious intruder we might recall the fundamental principle in the aforementioned Ken Keyes book. The Dire Wolf represents the outside world “grinning at your window,” but cannot rob you of your life – whether literally or figuratively – unless you write the prescription for your own demise by saying, “Come on in.”
Psychologically and biologically, we are fundamentally creatures of habit. This characteristic is literally “hard wired” into us as a survival mechanism. But when habit develops into addiction – particularly the addiction to the ill-fated endeavor of controlling the world that surrounds us – we have paid the price of admission for the Dire Wolf and his 600 pounds of sin to enter our lives.
In one of the many references to card games in the Grateful Dead repertoire, it becomes clear that saying, “come on in,” to the Dire Wolf is a precursor to a doomed, full engagement (“…I got my cards; we sat down for a game.”), and that this wrong turn can only lead to one outcome. In the game of Hearts, the Queen of Spades is not only the most undesirable card in the deck but, according to traditional cartomancy (fortune telling or divination using a deck of cards), its presence is almost certainly fatal. The inevitability of this card in a game with the Dire Wolf (“I cut my deck to the Queen of Spades but the cards were all the same.”) foretells that engaging with our addictions will inevitably lead in the wrong direction. Indeed, in the final verse we’re informed that the Dire Wolf “collects his due.”
It’s easy to recognize the Dire Wolf in substance addictions, but less so in behavioral habits. The lack of logic in trying to control the people and situations we encounter is pretty obvious if we stop to think about it. But if we habitually engage in this foolhardy endeavor, it can become an addiction no less difficult to escape from than any other, and with consequences just as dire.
Try the upgrade from expectations to preferences and leave the wolves outside your window.
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