art of accomplishment

Life After Murder: On Fear, Freedom, and Identity

Emile DeWeaver

At the age of eighteen — just before the birth of his child — Emile began serving a life sentence for murder. In this episode, Emile tells us how he came to face the fear that drove him to kill a man, and which followed him into prison. He shares how he learned to love himself and see through an identity that might have otherwise imprisoned him in yet another manner. After finding inner freedom, Emile eventually wrote his way out from behind bars as well: his sentence was commuted in 2017 after serving twenty-one years, a testament to his journey and transformation.

"I am under no illusions, right? I cannot make amends to the man I killed. I cannot make amends to his family. I still need to be a north star, right? In my world, in my life. So I can spend my time hating myself, [or] I could spend my time helping to create a world where little kids don't kill other little kids."

About Emile:

Emile is a queer, African-American activist whose life sentence in prison was commuted by California’s Governor Brown after 21 years for his accomplishments while in prison. While in prison, he was a culture writer for Easy Street Magazine; he co-founded Prison Renaissance, and despite the criminalization of organizing in California prisons, he covertly organized in prison to pass legislation that changed the way California treats juveniles in its criminal legal system. Emile is a widely published journalist, essayist, and literary writer. His credits include pieces in San Francisco Chronicle, TruthOut, Colorlines, and the Brennan Center. Emile is available for talks, panels, and workshops on the following topics:

• Power in the Criminal Legal System
• Media in the Criminal Legal System
• Three Principles of Creating Miracles

What We Discuss in Episode 53:

03:51   Emile’s relationship to fear — rooted in a culture of hyper-masculinity and violence — throughout his childhood and early adolescence.

14:53   How Emile came to the decision to write his way out of prison.

19:13   Finding self-forgiveness after murder and redirecting energy to make a positive impact.

25:51  The psychological experience of solitary confinement and how what happens in prison is mirrored in society at large.

31:00  The freedom and power of choice in the face of fear.

41:58   Why welcoming all emotions and aspects of yourself creates the path to an overarching sense of peace and joy.

**Full transcript coming soon! Check back HERE for the link.**

Follow us on Instagram at @artofaccomplishment to learn more about our guests and share your own experiences.

Transcript

Episode intro:
I am under no illusions, right? I cannot make amends to the man I killed. I cannot make amends to his family, and that still needs to be a north star in my world, in my life, what I feel like. I can spend my time hating myself or I can spend my time helping to create a world where little kids don’t kill other little kids.

Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host Joe Hudson.

Brett: We spend a lot of time on this podcast talking about fear. It is one of my favorite topics, and we’ve covered it from many perspectives, from parachuting off of cliffs to having difficult conversations in the boardroom and showing up authentically in relationships. But what if the fear you are facing is the fear of life imprisonment for murder? That’s not something we’ve really touched on in this podcast, but you are in luck because today Joe and I have the pleasure of speaking with Emile Deweaver who has been there and is here to tell us all about it.

Emile: That is the most interesting introduction I have ever had, and I have had some good introductions.

Joe: I was trying not to laugh too hard, or have it heard, and then once you laughed, I was like all right, good, now we get to laugh at that. That’s great.

Emile: That’s the beautiful thing about human laughter. When you come out the other end, you can laugh. It does feel good to laugh because you know what you survived. You know it’s not a laughing matter, but you know your world is a better place for it. You can make the world a better place for it. There still is joy in it. Let’s laugh at that.

Brett: Yeah, let’s dive into it. I dropped a little bit of a bomb there to get our listeners hooked into the episode, so I hope we have their attention now. Let’s give you the floor, Emile. Tell us how you came to be here today and what you would like to tell us about your journey with fear.

Emile: Those are all big questions. I just start by introducing the context behind your introduction. Since I was 18 years old, I was serving a life sentence, 67 years to life in prison, for murder and attempted murder. At the time, I was basically a homeless kid on the street. I was selling drugs, so I was involved in drug wars in Oakland when Oakland was the Oakland that you read about in the news and felt uncomfortable walking the streets at night.

Joe: Sorry to interrupt. What years was that?

Emile: 1997, 1998.

Joe: What part of Oakland?

Emile: 106th and MacArthur. Back then, it was called the Rolling Hundreds.

Joe: I lived on 47th and San Leandro in those years.

Emile: You are familiar. It wasn’t that many years before ’97 that Oakland was one of the murder capitals of the world.

Joe: Fourth of July, New Years Eve, there would be bullets landing on our roof tops. I have a lot of visceral memories from that time. Your part of the neighborhood was worse. I mean my part of the neighborhood was not good, but it was worse where you were. At least, everybody in my neighborhood would say that where you lived was worse.

Emile: That’s where I come from. I come from a lot of different places, but that’s another podcast. I was tried for murder. I was convicted because I did it. I was sentenced to 67 years to life. My relationship to fear, I think about my relationship to fear in three different stages. That’s before I got arrested, and also sometime after. I grew up in a hyper masculine culture, in a very abusive household where fear wasn’t actually allowed. I put that in quotes because there is no way to disallow fear. It was definitionally a part of being a man, a strong man, to not be afraid.
The problem with that for me was I have some muscles now, but I was a pretty small kid. I was always afraid. I was the youngest of three of us boys and an older sister. My brothers were kind of big, and I was always afraid. But I was messaged that this wasn’t okay. That means I was also always ashamed. I was always hiding this, and there was no way I could authentically show up as myself in any situation because it felt like I was hiding this thing that was very true about me that was saying there was something wrong about me.

I discovered at a young age the power of anger and rage to cover fear. I remember there was this time, my oldest brother who is four years older than me, and I had no chance in hell in standing up to him physically, but he was bullying me as big brothers do. I reached a limit, not that I had courage in any sense of the term. I had just really reached a limit, and I went into this rage. I threw this deodorant at him. We were in a hotel room. He jumped before the bed, and it shattered against the window.
My dad, who was a pretty scary guy, 5 foot five but he was a really scary guy, and he did not play. I would expect for him to skin myself alive for something like that. But instead, he had this look of pride on his face. He said I bet you will leave him alone now, and from that moment, I thought this is the way I can cover up fear and cover up this sense of inadequacy I have, through anger and outbursts. That was a genuine outburst. I don’t feel like I have had many genuine outbursts in my life.

I feel like after that moment, understanding that was a source of power, safety and a way I could not feel afraid and so not feel ashamed, I would manufacture anger, feed it, and stoke it until I could drive myself to move through this fear. My earliest relationship to fear was that of complete denial and rushing through it with anger. That, of course, ended in perhaps the most traumatic moment of my life when I killed a man, which, let’s be clear, it was much more traumatic for him and his family. I am speaking for myself, and that’s something that twenty plus years later I don’t know that I have recovered from fully.

I went to prison holding this tragic act that I committed out of fear and uncontrolled anger, manufactured.

Joe: I have a memory. When I was first out of college, I taught head start in the Hayes Valley Projects in San Francisco. I remember the culture of no fear, and I would say it wasn’t just with the masculine. I saw it in the feminine of that culture, too. There was very little room for fear. I remember even at that age with very little understanding asking somebody about it. I said nobody shows any fear here, and they said if you show fear, you are prey. You are either predator or prey. If you show fear, you are prey. You don’t show fear. I remember how much that viscerally hit me. I just want to say for the listeners to try to grok that. That helped me grok it, so I am hoping that story helps grok it for other people, how important it was not to show fear. Sorry to interrupt.

Emile: If I could take a quick, divergent path to respond to that story, I am going to tell you something interesting. I spent most of my life, even my juvenile life in juvenile facilities, juvenile hall, and youth authority, like boot camps, things like that, and of course, I was always afraid there. I couldn’t show it. I had this pretend person that I was. I was play acting hard core, the hardest method acting you have ever seen. I have never liked to fight. Fighting scares the shit out of me, but no one could ever know that. I had to be able to fight on a dime.
I grew up in that environment pretending that I had no fear, pretending that I liked to fight, pretending that I welcomed violence. As the system is kind of constructed, the same people I knew in juvenile hall, I would run into them in the county jail, and I ran into them in prison. We become adults in our 30s and 40s, and we grew up and out of that. We changed our relationship to fear. Then we started to have conversations with each other about our childhood.
Come to find out everybody was pretending. Everybody was pretending in the name of survival, saying if I don’t do this pretend, I won’t be able to survive because other people are somehow different than me. I am somehow different because I am an imposter. I am afraid all the time. I don’t want to fight. Everybody was thinking that and acting on this pretend character they thought they had to be to be safe, not knowing we were all pretending.

Joe: I have to say this sounds like a lot of board rooms I have been in. There are a whole bunch of people who are anxious and scared and doing everything they can not to show it and not to react from it and trying to have the bravado. They are scared the whole thing is going to go away. It is not too dissimilar. That’s amazing.
You were at the part of the story where you had this trauma. You killed somebody, and then you went to jail, which seems to me like the number one place where you can’t show fear. You were recreating this reality. What happened when you got to jail? What occurred for you there?

Emile: I feel like my relationship to fear changed, and I think it changed in stages. The first one, where it lands is that traditional conception of fear and conception. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It is doing the right thing in the face of fear or functioning in the face of fear. That’s where I ended up landing, but where it actually started was the reality of waking up in the morning. In the act, you can numb yourself. You can force yourself through it. That’s its own traumatic event, forcing yourself through something you know you absolutely should not be doing. In the aftermath of that lives a lot of self-loathing.

For me, I couldn’t have the same relationship to fear of I am just going to work myself up into a rage and recklessly move through it and deny it existed because I could clearly see that had resulted in the most horrible thing I have ever done. That didn’t quite work for me anymore.

Joe: What was that? There are obviously some people who did that in jail and then they kept with that technique. They think I learned to overcome fear with anger worked and then I created this heinous act, and now I am in jail. I am going to keep on with that strategy. You were like no, I can’t do that strategy anymore. What do you think is the difference between the people in jail who keep with the strategy and the people in jail who say that’s not how I want to be?

Emile: I feel like an important part of the answer to that question is luck. There are a number of factors that coalesce that created that impression for me. One was the feeling of utter disillusion with my value system. With this value system I have, this is where it has brought me. It brought me there while the mother of my child was pregnant. My kid was born while I was on trial for murder. I saw my kid through a glass partition when they were born.

I was struck by the reality that this child is going to grow up and one day someone is going to ask them what their father does for a living. I was a junior high school dropout, drug dealer. By society’s standards, I was a murderer. I say by society’s standards because I don’t believe in identifying a person based on the worst act they have ever committed. I did murder somebody. I am not a murderer. I think that is a very important distinction.

I was picturing this moment of when someone would ask my kid one day, and I knew they were going to lie about it and be ashamed or they were going to tell the truth about it and be ashamed. I knew they were going to be ashamed. I knew that with that shame might come some measure of hating me. I knew from my relationship with my father, and I had already sensed on a level that she can’t hate me without hating herself. I said she, but what I mean is they because they are a trans person but at the time I thought of them in those gendered terms. I felt like I had mortally crippled my kid in their first week of life.
I felt like they had just been born and I had failed them in every conceivable way. That was a lot.
My dad did a lot of things wrong, but from what he tried to do, he had already instilled in me the value there was nothing more important in this world than being a father. That hit me really hard. I was in a state of sheer panic, and when that receded, I began to realize that, one, they are not quite old enough to even know what a dad is or even what I did or what prison is, and so I felt like I grabbed hold of that. I thought you have until they are old enough to understand that to completely transform who you are.

I had determined to get out of prison, to write my way out of prison, which is its own story that actually happened 21 years later. I thought even if I don’t succeed at that, if I can at least show them that it is never too late to build something, it is never too late to turn around and go in a different direction and create something for yourself, then that at least can be my gift to them. I think that was the big difference.

Joe: That’s huge. I want to double-click on something you said, which is about being defined as the worst thing you have done. I am sure there is somebody who is listening who is like you are not allowed to let go of that shame of being a murderer. You are not allowed to choose the definition of who you are. Something rankles in people when that happens.

At the same time, when I hear it, I know so much the truth of what you are saying, which is how we define ourselves is how we end up acting. If we think that our value is that we are smart, then we will go round acting like we are smart, maybe less likely to listen to people and more likely to be arrogant.
If we go round thinking we are more important than other people, then that’s how we are going to act. If we go around thinking we are less than other people, that’s how we are going to act.
To take away the self-definition of murderer, to me, is an incredibly important thing because it prevents it from happening again. It allows you the freedom away from an identity that has been put upon you or that you put upon yourself. Either way, you get some freedom from it. But that’s my interpretation of it, but I am wondering what yours is. What makes it important for you to not be defined that way? What’s the practical implication of that?

Emile: I resonate with a lot of what you are saying. I feel like my commitment to not being defined as a murderer functions on three levels. I will start with something close to the one you offered. I think one of the more valuable things that happened to me while I was in prison is I became a writer, and I became a father. Those two things became my identity to the point where I would literally have conversations with myself and others, especially when it came to prison rules and prison politics. You have got to do this thing. Those are the rules of prison.
That identity as a father and that identify as a writer gave me the actual strength to say fuck that shit, no. I know those are the prison rules, and I am not going to live like I am in prison. I refuse to live like I am in prison. That was not moral courage. I needed that to be sane. I needed that to feel like I had a chance of one day going home and being a father to my kid. I had resolved within myself that I am really super clear about how I am going to get out of prison.
You have got to understand. When I got sentenced to 67 years to life in California, what tough on crime meant in California was that there were people who had been in prison with five years to life when I went to prison who had been in prison for 20 years and they hadn’t killed anybody. The grant rate of life on parole in California when I was convicted was maybe less than one percent. It was definitely less than four percent, and of the people who were granted parole, the governors would revoke 80 percent of them. Less than one percent were found suitable who had life sentences, and of that less than one percent, 80 to 90 percent had it revoked by the governor. That’s what tough on crime meant in California.

It was very reasonable for me to feel like I am not quite sure how this is going to happen, but I do know that if it is going to happen, I have got to be ready for it. If it is going to happen, I’ve got to behave in a way that makes that possible. Those two identities helped me resist prison politics because I became something more than a prisoner or a criminal or this identity that you say that if you are this, then that’s what you act like. The thing I want to share with people is how dare you. That’s not a place I came to overnight. I wasn’t 20 years old talking about I’m not a murderer. I wasn’t even 30 years old talking about I am not a murderer. I am 43 years old, and it took me a long time to come to a place where I could, one, forgive myself and, two, recognize that hating myself was not the answer to doing a heinous act.

In fact, it was a bit of a divergence and scapegoat because I know a lot of people spend a lot of time feeling guilty about things, and there is a way in which we can become comfortable in that this is my punishment, this is my penance. Do you know what I am saying? Feeling like shit and saying that I’m not shit, but what does it look like to actually try to make amends? I am under no illusions. I cannot make amends to the man I killed. I cannot make amends to his family.
There still needs to be a north star in my world, in my life, what I feel like, and so I can spend my time hating myself or I can spend my time helping to create a world where little kids don’t kill other little kids. That requires a different orientation. That’s why it is very important to me, and I get it.
I get why you would say bro, who the fuck are you to say I am not a murderer or don’t call me a murdered. I get it, but I respectfully disagree with you. There is the tendency to feel like you are trying to get over, or that’s quite convenient, Emilie, that you don’t consider yourself a murderer. I have got to say that’s for the proverbial you to hold. That’s not for me to hold. I feel really solid about my own integrity.

Joe: What I love about it is that vision you just drew. To me, it was amazing because what it says is you want to be the person who helps little kids not kill other little kids, defining yourself as a murderer makes that a lot less likely than if you have actually learned to love yourself, learned to forgive yourself and overcome that limiting identity. It’s just true. People who feel that about themselves and are still hating themselves in that way, it is very unlikely they are going to make a difference in the way you want to. Beautifully said.

Brett: I’m jumping in here now having been off of most of this conversation due to Wi-Fi issues, but something really there that I like is it is not that you are bypassing the identity of a murderer. That’s something you have done. In some sense, teaching kids not to murder involves saying hey look, I am somebody who has murdered. I am in that regard a murderer, and that’s not the only thing I am. That doesn’t entirely define me. There is still freedom to be had in who I am and how I show up in the world regardless of what I have done in my past. It is not this I am not a murderer. That wasn’t even me. That was just some other thing I am disassociated from, and don’t hold me accountable for those actions. It is I am all of me. I am all of my actions. I am everything beyond that as well.

Emile: Absolutely. This isn’t a conversation about I am not accountable for killing a man. I am accountable for killing a man. I will always be accountable for killing a man, whatever the consequences of that are, whether that’s someone killing me one day because they felt like you killed this person who was important to me. For me, that can happen. Those are the consequences of killing somebody. You have got to live with that but take a different parallel. Take someone who is not me. This is practiced in prison in the name of accountability of always leading with this is the crime I committed, and I am sorry. I can see why in a world where people are struggling to even come to terms with having done a horrible thing, I can see someone can be like we need this extreme practice in order to assure ourselves that this person is actually feeling remorseful for this thing they did.
But I think that goes off the track. Who in this world do you know who introduces themselves with the worst thing they have ever done? You don’t. There is only I will say one class of people we expect to do that.

Brett: That’s how I introduced you.

Emile: Shame on you, Brett. Shame on you.

Joe: The things we are ashamed of are the things we recreate in our lives. I think it is great. Where do you allow the empowerment of accountability to be there without the recursive nature of shame? How do you allow someone to be fully accountable, feel sorry, forgive themselves, love themselves, get over it? When does society’s need or prison’s need for you to feel shame actually get in the way of that? I think that’s the thing I imagine you have been wrestling with for a long time.

One other thing I have got to say, you said something about prison politics in there that I just have to say because we have a lot of professionals listening to this. You were talking about how I am not going to do prison things because if I follow the rules of this prison, I will be defined that way. I can’t do that because then I won’t be able to be a dad and then I won’t be able to be a writer and the things I want to be in this world. I want to know. If you are right now at home and you are in an office and playing office politics, the same is true for you. If you are in that office and you are obeying rules that don’t work for you, it is stopping you from being the father, the mother, the person that you want to be. If it is possible for a man to not play by the politics of prison, it is definitely possible for you not to play by the politics of some office in Silicon Valley. I needed to point that out because that is a truth I see so many people wrestle with and never get the kind of clarity on that you did.
Emile: That is such a powerful parallel. I just want to know if we have time for one more digression related to that.

Joe: Heck yes we do.

Brett: We do.

Emile: I talk to people about solitary confinement in prison sometimes. The science backs it as one of the worst forms of torture that is available to humans. Most people can see the problem with solitary confinement, but what I would like them to understand is it is a different scale. Solitary confinement is not different from prison. It is just more severe than the general conditions of prison, and the thing I would say that would link to what you said is much of what is happening in prison, which is why I am an abolitionist because I think it is what the world and society needs, is paralleled also in society and workplaces.

Think about prison as a mechanism of disposability, and then think about how many people feel in an office. It is something really funny. When you go to prison, that’s a lot of trauma and shit. Anyone who leaves prison after 21 years needs some therapy. They need some help. I have all kinds of therapists, different kinds of therapists from couple therapists to somatic therapists to sex therapists. I need them all. But something funny that I have found now is I know a lot of people in a lot of different circles, whether in tech, in philanthropy, in nonprofit, everyone is trying hard to heal from trauma in their lives.

There are different details, but there is something very similar about my healing journey and the healing journeys of many people around me who have seen nothing of what I have seen. That tells me something. Why is that? How is that so? That’s because these things are parallel. These systemic issues that we are talking about, they infect all of our institutions whether it is a corporate office, college, law school, or prison. What you can learn from what’s wrong with prison is something you can actually learn about what’s wrong with the society we live in.

Joe: When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was in this men’s group. We would get together every Wednesday for about three hours, and we would talk about our journeys, our healing journeys, our spiritual journeys. I remember there was this woman who wrote something called The Vagina Monologues. I can’t remember her name, but she had this PBS special called What I Want My Words to Say to You. In it, she basically took women in maximum security prison. One of them was famous. I think the woman who cut off the johnson of her boyfriend. Bobbitt, I can’t remember but something like that. She was doing the work with them in this prison. They were sharing these stories.

I remember thinking these women who were mostly murderers, and now I am thinking about the way I just said that. Most of them had committed murder, and they were going through the same stuff we were going through. Their stories were a little bit different, but their healing journeys, it was all the same. I remember just being blown away by it. It shook me that there was really no difference between what they were doing and what we were doing. I remember that moment for me was one of the more profound moments of that year. It was like we are all in this together.

We are on your first relationship with fear is changing into your second. At the beginning, you said there are three. Your fear had three different steps to it. The first one was overcome it and make it violent so that you don’t have to feel it. Then you are in prison, and it is changing.

Emile: It was endure it. The first stage was endure it, but part of that was it wasn’t yet out of a place of courage, feeling fear, but you are going to do the thing you know to be right. You might be wrong about that, but you are going to do the thing you know to be right or believe to be right or at least try to do it. For me, it was rooted in a deep sense of self-loathing. I didn’t really care about my life. I am not going to do this other thing. I am going to be afraid, but I am going to still do the right thing and if that doesn’t work out and someone kills me, okay, that’s okay. I deserve it. I killed a man, so someone should kill me.

Joe: I’ve never heard that. That one is blowing my mind. What’s interesting is there is a freedom. You found a freedom that was basically like I deserve it, which allowed you to be fearless. That just blows my mind a bit. What an interesting way to turn guilt into freedom, to turn shame and guilt into freedom. Fascinating.

Emile: It was a doorway to accountability. I wouldn’t advocate that that’s a healthy way to deal with your guilt. That’s what I mean by I got lucky. There is a way in which the things that were happening for me coalesced in a way that gave me the space and the time to help myself and to expand my imagination because I wasn’t doing the right thing exactly for the right reasons, but I was doing the right thing and that showed me that more was possible.
Then I came to get full engagement of fear as everyone feels fear. That’s really normal. That’s really human. There is no way you will ever escape that, but what you can choose is what you choose in the face of fear. That is what virtue is. At the time, I was reading a lot of great philosophy and stuff like that. In fact, I think that this came as I was reading dialogues of Plato, and they were talking about virtues, courage and all these things. I thought okay, and I am a kid. I hadn’t heard these things. I was like 19. I thought this sounds good. I like this. It is having the moral courage to do what you believe is right even when you are afraid. That became my relationship to fear for a very long time.
That was my relationship to fear I think until the time I got out of prison. It changed and had different manifestations. There was a time I was afraid, and I was running straight towards it, which I don’t advise. This is less in the realms of surviving prisons and more in terms of personal relationships, interpersonal fears. I would be afraid, so I would dive into it. This is only recently that my relationship to fear and emotions in general have changed. At the time, fear was still a bad thing. It was something I felt like something apart from me. It was something I had to conquer in some way. The first stage of my relationship with it was conquering it in the most irresponsible way possible, and the idea of courage was a way of conquering it with something that felt like integrity.

But what I actually came to find is fear isn’t something separate from me. It is not my enemy. It is something I learned in somatic therapy. The things you do, even the things that make you feel shame, whether it is like you have attachment issues and you fall in love really easily, and you feel ashamed about that. Maybe you don’t let people in, and so you are very guarded, any number of habits that we are working through as we heal and trying to become our best human beings.
Something I learned in somatic therapy is the body is smart. Think about where you learned that, and for me, the conversation was often in the context of prison. Let’s be real about what that environment is.
In that environment, all of these things you are ashamed of, can’t you see how smart actually your body was? Do you think you could have survived that if your body didn’t develop these mechanisms and these habits? It is not about demonizing these parts of you that you want to get rid of or feeling like they are holding you back. They have actually saved your life. They have actually made it possible that you are a sane human being. Most people meet you and they can’t even tell you have been in prison. Your friends tell you all the time that sometimes I am sorry. I have to actually remind myself of the trauma you carry because you can easily fool yourself into thinking Emile has it all together. He is fine. You present that well.

That is part of the mechanisms that your body has created for you to survive. Now, let’s honor that. Let’s say thank you. Here’s the thing about bodies. They tend to find something that works, and they use it for everything. Maybe you can just use this when you need it, and not use it when you don’t. That’s the thing you want to learn in somatic therapy. I want a choice about the mechanisms my body employs to protect me, not a default.

That became my relationship with understanding fear as a part of me that I get to love and have compassion for, and also collaborate with. Now fear isn’t something I overcome. Fear is actually a road map for me. Fear is a signal that I need to pay attention right now. Fear is a signal that I am avoiding something right now, and I may need to be careful about how I approach it. That doesn’t mean dive into it, but it is signaling something very important to my growth and my spiritual journey that I need to pay attention to. Now I use it as a road map. I feel nervous about that. What’s going on with that? What’s beneath that? What’s happening for you? What is it that’s crying out to be healed in this moment? What is it that’s crying out to be taken care of in this moment?

Joe: I find in my own journey and in the journey of people that I get to witness and experience is if you are on a quest for a deeper understanding or awakening or whatever words you want to use for that, even in meditation, if you are in meditation, following the road map of fear is one of the most direct lines to finding the truth of who you are, finding the truth of your identity. I remember at the beginning of my meditations I would not want to feel the fear, and so I was meditating to manage that emotion.

By the time I was finished, not that I am ever finished but the time when that journey ended for me of looking for something that was me, when that ended, I was just following fear. It was going right into the abyss every time and finding out that that thing I was most scared of was actually where I find my deepest truth. For me, when I feel fear and when fear moves, I am just like you, very excited. There is some good information here. That is something to pay attention to.

Brett: There was something really interesting you said about not diving all the way into it. I think there are times when diving into it is great, and there is also a way we can build an identity, me speaking as a base jumper here, of diving into the thing that’s most scary. Then that can be something that becomes less free. I see a bunch of things in my life, and one of the things that’s the most scary and I am like that’s the one I have got to dive into.

There can be a way I can become attached to being the identity that dives into certain kinds of fears, and then I am actually ignoring a bunch of the rest of the fears. Why do I keep recreating all of these worst-case scenarios when I do all of this work on myself to accept the worst possible outcome? I’ve actually done all the work to accept the worst outcome, and I haven’t accepted the subtle, small fears of taking any other path than going into that one.

Emile: We are some brilliant creatures, and there are ways in which we can fool ourselves even by doing the right thing. You think I am doing the right thing, but there are ways we can focus so deep on that that we can ignore all of the things we are hiding from.

Joe: I don’t even know where we are anymore. I know I want the conversation to keep going, but I don’t know where it is going.

Emile: We have talked about my three different relationships to fear. We have reached that third one of it is a road map. It is a partner in this life as are all of our feelings and emotions. They are partners in this life that we walk with instead of running from or running through or pushing over or hiding from. Give all of your parts that space, that room to be and love them. Your parts are acting because they love you, so love them.

I have conversations with my body, my heart, my mind, my fears all the time. It is like I want to name that. I am unhappy with what’s going on here, but I love you. Can you trust me? Can you trust me to take care of this? This is what I am going to do. Will you trust me to take care of it? If you can’t trust me, that’s good. We will work it out. I still love you, but can you give me a chance? You will be surprised. People might think that sounds pretty crazy, but you will be surprised by giving yourself the time of day, giving your feelings, giving your body the time of day to acknowledge and say you matter how much space that creates for you to move through them.

Joe: I have a question for you. I have a saying. It says joy is a matriarch of a family of emotions, and she won’t come into a house where her children aren’t welcome.

Emile: That is so good.

Brett: That was a great reaction.

Joe: I am wondering if you can relate to that. As you learn to love all these parts of yourself, do you find your life becoming more joyful?

Emile: Absolutely. I have never had it phrased that way, but it perfectly encapsulates what I feel like I am trying to do and what I am discovering. As I discover more and more heights of peace and happiness, even in conflict. In the last couple of weeks, I have had a lot of conflict in my life. I have felt very much at peace. Conflict is usually a thing that makes me feel insecure. I come from a place where conflict often means death. Even small amounts of conflict have been known to make me super anxious, to make me unable to settle into my body because it is just like I can’t miss anything. I have got to know everything because if I don’t, I could be in danger.

I’ve been finding this place where I am at much more peace in conflict. I am happy. I have a shit ton of faith that this conflict is only going to work towards my growth and the growth of the people I am in conflict with. That is a powerful source of joy. Wow, I am adulting. I am doing this shit.

Joe: Again, I want to just say how similar that is to a lot of the people I coach. These are high powered people in charge of billions of dollars, thousands of people, and that whole idea of constantly having to track the environment for the potential conflict that’s coming, the anxiety that runs their life, looking for all of the ways that it could go wrong and their journey from that to I can trust myself and I can trust that every adversity that comes my way makes me stronger and it is an opportunity to be more connected with myself and more connected with the people around me, more connected with my mission and what I want to do in the world.

I mean that’s the same story for the ones that are lucky enough to make that journey instead of just constantly being the fear and anxiety of the perpetual tax of a capitalistic system and a business system. I am saying it is bad or good for that. I am saying it is the nature of it. It is competitive.
What a pleasure. Oh my goodness. This is the absolute delight of my week. I am so glad you spent time talking to us. Thank you very much.

Brett: Thank you so much, Emile.

Emile: Thank you. I was nervous coming on. I looked at your podcast and I was like this is kind of a big deal. I talk to people all the time. I am a public speaker. I am on panels. I give talks. I do workshops, and I am never not nervous before. I am okay with that. It is a different kind of fear that I’ve developed a pleasurable relationship to. That’s just about being really high functioning and not hamstrung by fear but motivated by it.

Brett: Letting it be your aliveness.

Joe: In the Jewish tradition, I just learned this somewhat recently. They don't have a word for fear. They have two words for fear. One word means the fear of existential life. You are threatened. The other fear is the fear of stepping into a room that’s bigger than you are used to. It is being on stage. It is growing into something that you are being asked to grow into or to be the person you are being asked to be that you haven’t been yet. They have different words for it.

Brett: I love that.

Emile: I think that’s super useful. I haven’t thought about fear in a long time, but I started thinking about it for the show. I was thinking the fear I am talking about, the one I have different relationships to, I feel like there is another brand of fear that’s different than that. I will end with a quick story, and this is the kind of fear it is. It is not a fear I want to ever avoid. This is clearly my friend. It is the thing that keeps us living and keeps us alive.
Last year I drove across the country and back. I was coming back through the Rockies. I was driving through my sixth snowstorm in the Rockies. It is an intense experience. I have got my high beams on. I get out of the Rockies, and I am Utah. The speed limit in Utah is 80 miles an hour, and I am going 100 miles an hour. I think the speed limit is actually 90 miles an hour. I am gone. I am down the freeway. It is two o’clock in the morning. There is really no one on the freeway, which is why I forgot my high beams were on.

I am driving this back road in Utah 100 miles an hour in a fucking Honda Civic, and ahead in the road is a boulder. There are no hills. It is not like it fell down a hill. Maybe it fell off a truck, or there is some crazy ass serial killer putting boulders on the road. The boulder is about as high as my waist, maybe a little lower, maybe my thighs. I barely see it. I say that to mean if I hadn’t forgotten those high beams, I would have been dead because when I swerved, I barely missed it. I am going so fast that when I swerved, the car is going out of control. There are no brakes at 90 miles an hour. You can kiss it goodbye if you try to hit brakes at 90 miles an hour. I am turning into it. I am fishtailing and in this complete tailspin.

As all of this is happening, I am feeling no fear in the traditional sense. I am not feeling that fear that felt like paralyzing that I described my relationship to. It is a very different kind of fear because I am certainly more alert than I have ever been in my life. I have never spun out before, but I am remembering everything I have ever heard about spinning out. Number one was don’t hit the brakes. Number two was turn into it. I am doing it. It is like a fucking movie almost. I am working this car, this Honda. I am on this two-lane highway, and I am seeing the front and flashes.
Every flash I am taking a snapshot. I think ahead of me no light. I can survive this. I see I am moving to the left, towards the dirt and this fence that’s like a cow pasture fence. If I can stop on the road, great. If I can stop in that dirt, I will probably lose a tire. If I hit that fence, this is done. I bring the car to a stop, still on the asphalt, facing the other way, smoke everywhere, and then I stop. Then I take a breath. Then it hits me. Holy shit, that just happened.

I recognized the feeling of before it happened is the same feeling I have had being shot at, the same thing I have had with a gun in my face. Having a gun in my face certainly didn’t mean I turned into Captain Commander. No, you are robbing me. I am going to give you the shit. There is this feeling, this state of intense awareness and activity. If you decide to move, you move. It is the most high performing I have ever been, in those situations. That’s actually not a fear I have ever had a problem with. It can only be defined as fear, but it is not that fear I feel that we have been talking about on this show.
Brett: It is the same kind of fear in a base jump where something goes a little bit wrong and a lot of sudden you are present. You are there. You are not thinking I don’t want this fear to be happening. You are there. You are acting. It is moving through you, and it is energizing. After you get out of the situation, that’s when the next wave hits. You are like oh my God, that just happened. Holy shit.

Joe: Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.

Brett: Thank you so much, Emile.

Emile: You guys take care.

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