Life Lesson #2 with the Grateful Dead: Dealing with Change

Well the first days are the hardest days
Don’t you worry anymore
‘Cause when life looks like easy street
There is danger at your door

Those are the opening lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.” Like many of Robert Hunter’s lyrics, they are profound.

These words have been in the back of mind since I returned to the U.S. this summer. We saw Dead & Co. in concert in July, and we saw Bob Weir with Wolf Brothers and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center earlier this month, and “Uncle John’s Band” was on the set list at both concerts.

The song is apt for this moment in my life because the opening verse gets to the truth that life is change, and change is hard. The first days are the hardest days because you are in a new situation. You are vulnerable in this position because there are elements of the situation of which you are unaware. And when you become aware of them, they can take you by surprise, and not necessarily in a positive way.

You are exposed to fear in this position. And fear causes anxiety, which can invade your mind if you don’t address it.

I have a new practice for this: I see the fear. I acknowledge the fear. I try to understand the fear and articulate the root of it, whether silently or out loud. Then, and this is key, I accept the fear.

This is a process. Depending on where you’re at mentally, the process can be quick, in a matter of minutes, or it can take days, weeks, months, even years.

Maybe a particular fear recurs, and if it does, it’s important to recognize it and see the pattern. Dan Harris, of “Ten Percent Happier” fame, calls this “hugging the dragon.” To “hug the dragon” is to embrace your inner demons. We all have them, even the most successful and the most stable of us. I would argue that the most conscious among us–the most fully awake to life–are the ones who are most aware of their inner demons and how to control them.

I find that when I finally accept fear, I feel relief. Like a weight has been lifted because I have arrived at a point where I see the reality of a situation, and I recognize my disappointment at unmet expectations, and I can accept that reality has fallen short of my vision. This emotional/mental state then becomes a new baseline from which to perceive and to act. From here, I know that I have been disappointed, and in accepting my disappointment, I can continue living.

It is important to dream. And as a high achiever, I believe in dreaming big. But every dream that comes true has some unsavory elements when it becomes reality.

That’s a good thing because, knowing what the reality is, you can decide if/how to improve your reality, whether it’s worth continuing to live in that reality, or whether it’s time to recalibrate what you want.

Our dreams are goals, and goals change over time according to how we change as individuals. I am not the same person I was 10 years ago, and I am glad for that.

Change is difficult. But change is life. Something will periodically come along to challenge you. ‘Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door. Change will come knocking, again.

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