“Some years ago when I was 34, I got into emotional work. Very simple principle: experience your feelings. Yes, it can be helpful to look at them, analyze them, think and talk about them, express them in some way. But if you really want to do something about them, feel them. As deeply and completely as possible.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t spend time surrendering to feelings. Not acting on them necessarily. Humans may be unique in their ability to separate the experience of feelings from action those feelings can provoke. It’s my experience that surrendering to feelings and letting them do what they want to do inside you reduces pressure to do things that might generate new and worse feelings.
I spend time most days experiencing feelings, often in bed before I get up. I’m curled up, surrendering, just feeling whatever it is—anxiety, impotence, inferiority, guilt at lying around in bed. Occasionally I put myself in a place where I can be fairly uninhibited—cars with all the windows up are great for this. If my feelings seem out of reach, I experience them as that: out of reach. But in a closed car on a lonely lane or even at the far end of a parking lot, I can scream if I want. Pain, rage, fear, anything. For me, screaming usually becomes cathartic gut-coughing, climaxing with a cleansing wad of phlegm thrown from deep inside.
Sometimes I cry. That’s hard for me. But when it comes, it’s the kind of torrential washing and emptying that happened when I was little. Sometimes I scream joy and power, how great I feel. How great I am!
The result is a changed consciousness. The feelings—even guilt, anxiety and depression—have shifted or dissipated. I’m freer to act, to do what I need to do. What I need to do seems clearer. I’m energized, mobilized. I feel good.
When I face working on this book after time away from it, I get cotton head. Wet cotton. Horizon less anxiety, numb despair, I don’t have anything to say, I couldn’t say it if I did, I’m under a sandbag the size of a house. What I do is go to my beloved old brown Corolla. There I surrender. The last time I did this, last night, the groggy, impotent feeling changed to something positive. Maybe I can. Maybe I can do it (the book). I came back, I wrote, and here I am.
The effect doesn’t last. But continued emotional work has a cumulative effect. It’s clear to me that feelings are the mechanism by which organisms respond to their environment. Worms, plant cells, algae all experience pleasure, pain, maybe even fear. Feelings teach organisms how things in their environment will affect them and what actions will best enable them to survive. Feelings show me my next step and how to take it. I learn whether the last step was best, or whether the best step now is back where I was before—or even back beyond that. Back is the best step forward sometimes.
Everybody “experiences their feelings,” you say—more than they want to. That’s the point, say I. They experience their feelings more than they want to, so they do all kinds of things to stop feeling them or feel them less. Surrendering to feelings just isn’t something we’re conditioned to do. So, what do you do? How do you do it?
I’ve mentioned some of the things I do. A tidal wave of rage will get me in my car where I bellow for all I’m worth. Usually vital to this is deep coughing climaxing with cathartic goop. Sorry, it works for me. Sometimes I scream pain. Same result usually.
At the other end of the catharsis spectrum, I periodically wake early in the morning, 3, 4 o’clock, feeling inert, inadequate, I’m an embryo, void of motivation, virtually void of life. Surrendering to these feelings draws me into a fetal position on my left side, to a corridor of energy that starts on the left side of my chest and goes up to the center of my head. When I fully surrender to this inertness, this catatonia, something seems to percolate through this corridor. Energy goes from one place to another, and after a while I feel different. My mind goes to things in the outside world and I’m usually up and functioning without having consciously decided to be.
Is this what you should do? Scream your head off? Cough up goop? Curl up like a fetus and let void energy percolate up your corridor? Damned if I know. The trick is to do something other than ignore or suppress feelings that come up. To feel them completely—not just enough to know they’re there.
Emotional work is a new game, I think. Not much is known about the specifics. I don’t know whether you have a “corridor” or, if you do, whether it’s in the same place as mine. People may have different ways and means of processing feelings. Or they may not. One friend of mine needs to be extremely violent, to hit, slam and kick violently where he won’t do anyone or thing, himself included, any harm—on a wrestling mat, for example. Matter of fact, I like doing that myself.
Be careful about translating your feelings to behavior, to outward action. There are laws, and as you’ll see later, my exhorting you to do emotional work is not an exhortation to violate or abolish laws or community customs and mores. These will change in time. They always have.
The key is to experiment with the faith that the deepest, most authentic parts of you are perfect. They can’t harm you or others, human or otherwise. They don’t want to. They’re perfect. That’s the faith.”
I Am the Emperor, page. 15
“Life could be a dream. Everything I see, hear, touch, all of it could be a dream, a fabulous movie put on by some unimaginable agency for some unimaginable reason. Not an original thought. You’ve thought this, I’m sure—assuming you exist. Maybe I’m schizophrenic: maybe there’s a real world out there, but what I think I’m doing and what I think is happening in the real world just isn’t the case. Fevered delirium, hallucination. It could be that.
Emotional work helped me on this, by orienting me to what I feel. No illusions there. If I feel afraid or depressed or confused or just messed up, is somebody going to tell me I’m wrong? That’s not the way I feel? Maybe I don’t know how I feel. Is somebody going to tell me I do know? Even if I’m schizophrenic, or it’s all hallucination or the fabulous movie, I’m feeling it. That’s certain. That’s rock solid.
Same with what I perceive: and by what I perceive I mean sounds, tastes, anything that could have gotten into my consciousness through any of the senses, not just the visual. The point is, my perceptions may not have gotten into my consciousness through my senses. They may have generated spontaneously in my consciousness. Or maybe God sent them: visions, voices. Maybe they’re drug-induced, or the result of acute loneliness, isolation or fear. But no matter where they come from, my perceptions are in my consciousness. No illusions there, either. I can’t be certain of what’s really out there in the real world, assuming it’s out there at all. But I can always be certain of what I perceive. The sights, sounds, smells, etc. in my consciousness, no matter how they got in here, are rock solid.
Same with thinking. What I’m thinking may be muddled, undefined, unclear, vague, mixed-up, stupid, crazy or disordered. But can there be any doubt to me that I’m thinking it? Is it conceivable that I’m not thinking what I think I’m thinking? That I’m really thinking something else? It’s not conceivable to me. We’re talking conscious thought here. Sure, we could argue all day about what I’m “thinking unconsciously.” Let’s not.
I know what I feel, perceive and think. I don’t think there’s anything else I can know with the same certainty. I don’t know if there’s a God, I don’t know what’s important, I don’t know what kind of behavior is “appropriate,” I don’t know what I ought to do, what’s right, wrong, good, bad, and I don’t know what the truth is, what the “facts” are. I may have strong opinions on these matters—you’re reading a book full of them. But I know nothing for certain about any of them. I do know what I feel, perceive and think, without a glimmer of doubt.
Then again, maybe I don’t know. Maybe I get confused about what I feel, perceive and think. Maybe it’s all uncertain or vague sometimes, or all the time. But there’s no doubt about the absolute truth of the confusion, uncertainty or vagueness. They are absolute, while God, “appropriate” and truth are not. Not for me anyway.”
I Am the Emperor, page. 35
“Know what I think would be a neat game? People who want to play it do all the studying they want, make all the intellectual, practical and emotional preparation they can think of, then they go to some place they’ve chosen and start living. They go with nothing. No clothes, no tools, nothing man-made, nothing, for example, that can help them make fire. And they don’t get to steal man-made things or use man-made things they find, including primitive technology. They couldn’t use an arrowhead, for example, if they found one. They couldn’t steal cultivated food, couldn’t use a cultivated cotton plant if they ran across one. They’d have to find the stuff in the wild and cultivate it themselves if they wanted to. They couldn’t steal domesticated animals. Any animals they domesticate must be wild to begin with.
Advanced preparation could include anything. Players could explore the territory they planned to live in. They could prepare their bodies and skills, e.g. toughen up their feet and practice making fire from either natural materials or with tools they made from natural materials. And they could practice getting food and sleeping outdoors with nothing on. It might be a few days before the players had any shelter (think about building a lean-to without tools). And it would certainly be a while before they had anything like clothing.
Other people could watch (yay, naked people!), photograph, TV news crews could follow the game. No problem. Players and observers could talk to each other all they want, exchange information, observers could even coach the players, provide emotional support, psychoanalyze them if they want. But they couldn’t supply anything, even natural things, brought, for instance, from another location.
A medical/rescue team could rescue players from danger, injury or sickness. From each other, possibly. Anyone rescued would be removed from the game. They’re “dead.” Players could have babies. If they were afraid for a baby, the baby could be taken out of the game. Very likely one or both parents would want out too. But if they leave, they can’t come back. I’d like to see players have children and raise them in the game. For this, you’d need fertile players of both sexes. In other words, without women the group of players would become extinct. So, if all the women or men in the game “die,” the game is over. One-zip, Environment.
The players would take into the game one “tool,” language. Conceivably you could select players who didn’t speak the same language, making conditions more like those of our pre-technology forebears who presumably did not communicate verbally. I’d like to save this no-language feature for the super advanced format. I want to see how well the players would do taking into the game all the intangibles they can: language, and plenty of knowledge, training and collaborative preparation. I think it would take as long to prepare players for the game as it took to prepare astronauts for the moon.”
I Am the Emperor, page. 48
“Why do we affluents consume so much? Why is our rate of consumption growing so fast? Consumption’s a funny thing. In the case of much of what modern affluent humans uniquely consume, it isn’t the taking of the stuff that costs other organisms. It’s what we do with it. Much of what we affluents consume is made from stuff dug up from the Earth, from below the biosphere, the layer of the Earth’s surface where organisms live. We don’t take anything from other organisms by pulling up minerals, coal, oil and natural gas. What we do with it, though, costs all organisms, us included.
Hauling massive volumes of stuff up from underground and spreading it all over the surface of the Earth in the form of housing, offices, factories, storage facilities, military installations, airports, highways, railroads, parking lots and pavements, all this eliminates life. Add to this the hard mantle that man is laying over the Earth the fields, pastures and feed lots that grow food just for us, and add to them all golf courses, sports fields, ski slopes, manicured parks and suburban lawns—America’s suburban lawns could form a major country—and you have a picture of the life system affluent man is snuffing out or converting to food chains whose single purpose is to feed and entertain us. This covered and converted surface and the energy that flows within it, generated mostly by fossil fuels whose exhausts further assault living things, is the sum and substance of the affluent world’s good life, the growth with a capital G that is today’s virtually unchallenged definition of economic health.
Why are we doing it? What drives you and me to do it? And let’s get that straight. It is you and me. It’s not them. It’s you and I that work in the offices and factories, buy their products, get and want the military protection—I mean if you don’t want it, there are plenty of places where it’s not to be had; and it’s no coincidence you won’t find the life you’re used to there. It’s you and I that ride the highways and railroads, live in the housing, park in the parking lots, walk on the pavements and spew up landmasses of garbage while we’re doing it. Unless you’re out in the woods playing The Game, you’re participating in all this. I am.
What drives us to consume all this stuff? The answer couldn’t be simpler or more obvious. We want it. The frightening thing is that so much of what we want is so entirely logical to want, so hard, so dumb, so self-destructive not to grab the minute it becomes available and the minute we can afford it.
I have two key points to make in this essay. Here’s the first. The logic that drives affluent humanity’s ravenously destructive consumption today is precisely the same logic that drives all organisms at all stages of development everywhere to do whatever they do. We consume all the stuff we do for the same reasons all organisms anytime anywhere do anything.
All organisms will do anything to avoid death whenever and however it threatens. It’s the nature of organisms: we want to live forever. Exceptions are rare.
To stay alive, all organisms need to eat, most if not all need to rest, some need to avoid things that threaten death, and some individuals of all species must reproduce for the species to survive. Organisms are driven by feelings associated with these needs. Without the feelings, the organisms and their species wouldn’t meet the needs and therefore wouldn’t survive.
But not all these needs apply to all organisms, so the feelings probably don’t apply either. It’d be sort of mean, for instance, if plants could feel fear, the emotion that tells an organism to avoid danger. I mean, what could a plant do about what it’s afraid of?
Eat, rest, avoid danger and reproduce. Most, maybe all, the body functions and activities of organisms serve to accomplish these tasks. And what do all these boil down to but safety? Safety from death. Eat and you’re safe from starvation or from diminished energy that makes you an easier target for predators. Rest and you’re safe from, again, diminished energy. Avoid dangers, like predators that threaten you no matter how much energy you’ve got. Avoid dangers like falling, or banging into something. Reproduce—by having sex, if that’s how your species works. Reproduce and your species is safe from extinction. Safer.”
I Am the Emperor, page57
“Other things drive humans to consume. Humans suppress their feelings. Maybe they always have. Maybe lots of species do. Maybe being a multicellular organism requires constituent cells to suppress feelings to function in a way that beats going it alone.
Humans, I’m convinced, suppressed their feelings increasingly as their technology developed. It makes sense. They needed to cooperate more and with increasing precision to get the most out of their advancing technology. Acting out a lot of wild feelings would get in the way and disrupt that increasingly precise cooperation.
I’ve often wondered whether we had to suppress our feelings, whether technology and civilization might have progressed just as well, or better, were people free to experience their fear, anger, pain, etc. Not act them out necessarily. Just feel them, completely. It’s the great organizer, warfare, that suggests not. As warfare developed and increasingly required precisely integrated human action to optimize the effectiveness of advancing military technology, there was less room for, shall we say, emotional diversity. And successful social behavior in battle—suppressing feelings of terror, for instance—becomes the model for behavior in all situations. Reasonable. What worked in the crunch should work the rest of the time, wouldn’t you think?
Either way, there’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that all affluent humans suppress their feelings. We don’t feel them. Not anywhere near fully. We try to control them, to feel good all the time. And we consume all kinds of things—books, seminars, retreats and the like along with the powders and potions—to do it.
We affluents are addictive consumers. We consume all kinds of things to feel better. New dress, car stereo, I’ll feel better if I buy one. Origin of all addictions, right? Stop feeling bad?
Key Point Number One claims that we humans consume all the stuff we do for the same reasons all organisms anytime anywhere do anything. So how is consumption aimed at controlling feelings comparable to what nonhuman organisms do? I think safety’s involved. Safety from what? From social rejection. Expressing or acting on feelings alienates people and thereby weakens the individual’s ties to the social fabric. Come loose from the social fabric and you either die or other people support you. They do your surviving. And they don’t reward you with a lot of respect for the privilege.
Suppress those feelings and you won’t express them or act on them. Suppress the rage that they moved the pet care section again. Don’t scream uncontrollably, foam at the mouth, roll around in the aisle and pull down stacks of canned soup and corn flakes. Suppress that fatigue, the fear the job’s too big for you. Suppress the depression. Ever notice the first thing they show you on a new job is where the coffee’s made? Bite a Marlboro from the box, cowboy, when you’re feeling like a groveling drip. Loosen up at the party or it might be your last.
You’re stupid if you don’t want what coffee, cigarettes, booze and drugs give you. Productive, self-confident, turned-on and fun not only feel good, they mean surviving, making a place for yourself in the hierarchy, friends, being needed. Not is not. And not is dangerous. Life-threateningly. That’s why people go at these mood-alterers like sharks in a blood frenzy. They’re not stupid. Well, they wouldn’t be if the agents themselves weren’t life-threatening. And how much can a little hurt? Most people are barely scratched by immoderate use of the various mood-alterers. Either way, mood-alterers are a big part of our economy, of affluent human consumption. And I think, like most consumption, it’s consumption for safety, ultimately from death.”
I Am the Emperor, page142
“I don’t believe there’s any agency that guides the comings and goings of the universe and distinguishes between good and evil and punishes one and rewards the other. I don’t believe there’s any agency that’s somehow looking out for me and knows my destiny. I don’t believe in destiny. I believe that logic determines every event in the universe, logic that, once it’s understood, can be seen as permitting little alternative. Destiny, yes, but not of the “some enchanted evening,” “it is written” sort.
I don’t believe in former lives, future lives, I don’t believe I chose the circumstances I was born into, I don’t believe I came into this life with a purpose, I don’t believe things were meant to be. I believe, once you’re dead, you and your consciousness are over. History. The molecular activity that energized your consciousness is doing other things, as it was before you were conceived. I believe the one and only consciousness that I’m inside never existed before my current life and won’t exist after it. All the consciousnesses that existed before and after were and will be somebody else, not me.
How can I live without faith? This is my faith. Part of it. I think it’s a beautiful part—one, for example, that doesn’t divert love anywhere but where it’s best served and from which it’s best rewarded: me, other organisms, and everything else I can more or less see or touch in the universe. I love us. Hopefully some of us love me.
The miracle of life, of consciousness, me. And not just me: me human, me human today, at this advanced, possibly climactic stage of technological development. At this relatively lucky rank and status among humans. And the enormous power that all these advantages cumulatively afford—power to learn, experience, build and enjoy. Again, look back, look down the upward-curving evolutionary pyramid, the steadily steeper accumulation of advances that mark where you are. It stupefies me when I think how lucky I am. Almost makes me believe in God!”
I Am the Emperor, page157
“I was 12 when I first wanted to be Emperor. I discovered Napoleon in seventh grade history and I totally obsessed on him. It took more than one funny look to cure me of hand-in-shirt strut. War to me then was a huge game you won with dazzling strategy, and the spoils were glory. You, the conqueror in triumph, eight savage stallions drawing your chariot through the Arch of Titus, frenzied throngs teeming as far as the eye can reach, or behind the mounted Garde Républicaine, scarlet tassels bobbing from gleaming silver helmets against the backs of gleaming silver breastplates, through the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Élysées, frenzied throngs teeming as far as the eye can reach: how do you feel?
‘You dare to threaten the Emperor of the Universe.’ Charles Middleton trembling with rage as Ming in the Flash Gordon serials of the 30’s and 40’s, reducing me to jelly weekday afternoons in the 50’s. Emperor of the Universe. Hard rank to top. Emperor of all universes? All times? All dimensions? Pretty close, there, to You Know Who.
Ego. What’s it about? Where does it come from? From evolution, no doubt, but why? For the same reason, any characteristic evolves: it makes those who have it more durable, more survivable than those who have less of it. Natural selection logic. If that’s the case, if ego—and I’m using ego in the common parlance sense, “I’m the best,” “watch this,” not any psycho-technical sense—if evolution selected ego into us so we can out-survive those who have less of it or (gosh) none at all, why then do we sit on it so hard?
I love to see kids brag and show off. I love swelled heads. Trade you a stiff upper lip for one any day. Bragging and showing off equals growing, and crowing about growing, grabbing at acknowledgment for it. Praise. The sooner you get the acknowledgment and praise you need (authentic acknowledgment and praise, truly felt, the only kind that counts), the sooner you’re off to grow some more. At any age.
Several times in Parks’ groups I got up and stormed full-lung, sweating spitting stomping leaping, how great I am, how much I want, and I want it ALL NOW. I remember it as entirely authentic, no-baloney volcanic explosion, right from the core. It felt great, and the surprise was to see what it did to others. They stared up like kids looking at Santa Claus (ever been in a Santa Claus suit with young kids around? Christmas Eve when they expect the real thing? I did once, and I’ll never forget it). Anyway, these ego-frenzy blowouts felt great to me, no surprise, but to those watching as well.
Am I unusually sick or unusually healthy? Am I unusual? Just what precisely are you Emperor of, Mr. Weymouth? Well, actually, not of anything. Emperor for. Emperor for all the states and all the nations and all the peoples and species of the Earth, EFASANAPSE. Well, that puts a cap on it. A trifle in Ming’s realm, and way short of All Universes All Times All Dimensions (EAUATAD)—you’re a colossus of modesty, Mr. Weymouth.
Yes, I think I’m unhealthy. Maybe unusually, I don’t know. I’m way short of optimum, and one critical way I’m short is my desperate, seemingly limitless need for acceptance, for being important. Important to whom? To maybe everyone, at least to everyone who’s important to me, and there have been many for whom I wasn’t important enough. At least I didn’t think I was. Maybe I was wrong. It doesn’t matter, the effect is the same. I didn’t think I was important to them, I didn’t feel it.
We’ve begun to accept the sexual drives in us, we’ve begun (barely) to accept the varieties of sexual drives in us. I’m convinced the more we accept all of them, the more we fulfill all of them, the more powerful and efficient we’ll become, the more fun and fulfillment—of all kinds—we’ll get and the less of the Earth’s resources we’ll use to get them.
But we haven’t begun, I think, to accept our ego needs—though we do a fair amount to gratify them. I think it’ll be good when we do both: really gratify them, and acknowledge that we’re gratifying them, acknowledge they’re there. Acknowledge it to ourselves, which I don’t think we do, and to others as well. Really revealing ourselves to others pays off big, I think (assuming the others want to be revealed to).
To continue the sex analogy, I don’t think we’re going to determine which sex drives are truly natural and healthy, assuming any aren’t, until we’ve cleansed ourselves of the deeply embedded sex taboos we inherited from possibly millions of years and several species of predecessors who wouldn’t have survived without the taboos. And only emotional work will accomplish this cleansing. Sex taboos are deeply embedded because they’re deeply emotional. And they won’t go away until we’ve fully experienced all the feelings that permeate them, nor until we’ve become reasonably proficient at meeting all our deepest needs, sex included. Even then some sex taboos might persist, which might assure their logical and eternal validity.
Same with ego. We won’t know what kinds or components of ego are natural and healthy until we’ve cleansed ourselves of our outdated (although probably once necessary) bias against ego. A bias that makes so much of what we do to feed our egos covert, hidden, not only from others but, much worse, from ourselves. For example, I won’t find out what’s unhealthy in my egoism—what in it blocks achieving most fun, most fulfilling adaptation to my environment—until I experience all the feelings embedded in it and become a lot more proficient than I am now at meeting my deepest needs. Maybe I need to tell the world, or the part that’ll listen, that I’m the Emperor.
My conviction, my faith, is that ego—the need, the drive, and the gratification and fulfillment of it—is all as beautiful a process and phenomenon as we’re beginning to experience the sex process as being. The sex/love process. The ego process is part of the sex/love process, don’t you think?
Hey, I don’t dig arrogance either. Arrogance equals ego rape. It’s a person who hasn’t got what we commonly say he or she has: a “big ego.” Arrogant people try to manipulate others into doing what they haven’t been able to do themselves: convince themselves of how great they are. Hell, I think we’re all great, stupefyingly so, it bends me toward belief in God when I think how great every one of us is—every human, every organism, every existent. The people who really know how great they are and who by a long shot don’t need me to tell them, they’re the winners who are going to save the world. The trick is to become one of them. Or at least to make sure the ones we bring in and raise are among them.
I’m one of them sometimes, I love myself a lot then and I think I then generate and amplify love around me. Love for me maybe, or just love, directed all over the place. That I’m not that all the time, not fully aware of how great I am and how much I can generate and amplify love around me, that I’m not that anywhere near enough of the time, is a big part of what’s short in me.”