I have to share it. I put the last part of the article here, though I suggest reading it all.
I don’t remember exactly when Laurie gave me a copy of a manuscript he’d written, All Men Shall Be Gods, but I still have it. For years, I’ve wanted to publish a particular section from it, a remarkable account of an experiment in living he carried out in San Francisco in the early 1960s before he fell under the sway of amphetamines. I feel compelled to underline how striking I find this singular inquiry to have been. It's an ontological adventure that could easily have remained untold and I'm grateful, finally, to be able to share it with others. Here is that excerpt.
Laurie Seagel writes:
I decided to try to find out what were man’s basic needs. I would live without most things I was accustomed to and see what it would be like. I decided to give up words; I would only say “yes,” “yes” to every question, nothing more, a nod of the head would usually suffice. I would give up things; sandals, a thin shirt and a thin pair of pants would be enough. I knew I could adjust to temperatures in San Francisco through bodily relaxation. The fewer clothes the better; I would worry about changing when the need arose. Nothing in my pockets, nothing, no money, no identification, nothing. And no place. I would break the habit of thinking “where” and “where to?” All places would be equal. I would try to learn to be comfortable anywhere.
I hid a sleeping bag in the bushes near Coit Tower, the highest point on Telegraph Hill, though I ended up sleeping in it only once. The rest of my belongings I hauled over to the family home in Oakland.
Usually, I wore a hat pulled down low. I sat, relaxed my body, and watched, or listened—looked and listened. I sat in Cassandra’s, in the Coffee Gallery, the Bagel Shop, The Place—these were the main gathering spots for people I knew. There was also the Cellar Jazz Club, evenings. Still later some nights after the Cellar closed, we sojourned across town to the Black Fillmore district where jazz was played until early morning at Bimbo’s Bop City. Or I’d go off by myself, as most of the others went home.
When Cassandra’s closed, I’d cross the street where a small cafe was good for a short stop. The small hours of the morning, three to five, I’d spend in a variety of regular ways. Lying among the empty bins in the Italian bakery on Grant just above Green, I watched the bakers working, kneading, arranging, shoving the long rows of loaves into the great oven—rhythm, movement, fire and quiet Italian talk. I enjoyed the warmth and the smell, enjoyed watching them work, like a dance it was—and they always welcomed me. I was a spectator whose enjoyment in watching them heightened their own enjoyment in the work. Invariably one of them would thrust a fresh loaf of bread upon me when I rose to leave.
Another activity for three to five in the morning was walking through the bustling, bright and raucous produce market located then at easy walking distance from North Beach. My eyes delighted in the colors of the fruits and vegetables, and I felt energy from the surging of the men and their machines, the helter-skelter of it all. Here too, people got used to seeing me among them. I was always silent and happy, smiling from the delight my eyes were beholding. I was joyous watching the beauty of existence. Here in the produce market people called me “wolf-man,” I suppose because my hair was long and shaggy, but they always acted toward me with friendliness and offered me fruit, which I ate.
When I was especially tired, during these pre-dawn hours and at other times also, I went into rhythmical walking, sometimes for long distances around San Francisco, long rhythmical strides, arms swinging. The action sort of turned me on, got me high, rested me.
Every day, before the sun rose, I climbed to the top of Telegraph Hill somewhere alongside of Coit Tower, to sit and meditate. From my spot, all the sounds of the bay down below me in an arc left, right and center rose up directly, undisturbed by any edifice. I sat, relaxed deeply, deeply, and listened, watched. The sounds of the ships, of the city, of the birds were pleasant to me. I enjoyed them every day, day after day, for hours at a time. When I began hearing the coarser hum of human voices—tourists appeared about nine in the morning to look out on the bay—I lay down where I was and slept for a few hours. I liked sleeping in the sun.
When I awoke, I usually went to Washington Square Park, or down through Fisherman’s Wharf to Aquatic Park. On the grass of Washington Square, or the sand of Aquatic Park, I’d catch some more sleep in the sun, sometimes swim in the bay at Aquatic Park, eat raw fish at the wharf, or I would sit and watch, listen, or be together with friends— “beatniks” we were beginning to be called after Chronicle columnist Herb Caen put together Kerouac’s “beat” with the “nik” from the Russian “Sputnik.”
Looking and listening were for me ways of quieting my mind, teaching it to not think, breaking habits of thought like: what to do? where to go? But after awhile, looking and listening became something much more: I came to see and to hear the world, existence, more and more acutely. The more I watched and listened, the more I saw and heard, more keenly, more distinctly.
Every day I gained more and more pleasure from this listening and looking, always seeing and hearing more clearly. As time went on, I appreciated how glorious and beautiful existence is, living. I saw how busy, preoccupied were most people with doing, making. Existence was already so much to enjoy, so grand and lovely, so exquisite. Just to see, to hear the sights and sounds that were there made me happy and delighted. I was truly happy and at peace. Everywhere. All the time.
Throughout those eight months, or a year—I’m not sure exactly how many months went by—I had not the slightest inkling of trouble of any kind. The two policemen on the beat, when they passed me they said, “Hi Laurie,” and that was that. I did what I wanted, when I wanted to, sometimes with others, but most often alone. I roamed freely, drank lots of water, ate enough somehow and was always serene in enjoyment of the beauty of all I saw unfolding before me, day into night, night again into day: the warmth of the sun, the cool breezes, the fog, the wind, the sea, sky and stars, trees, flowers, children playing, old people, young mothers with their children, the Chinese, the Italians, the French, the Basque.
My attention became so keen I saw in crowded coffee shops and meeting places, how people’s bodies reacted to each other’s without their consciously knowing it.
When I sat at a live jazz session, my hearing was so sharp, it was like what poets call “a sensitive ear in the audience.” I would hear each particular instrument, separately. The musicians told me that when I listened, they began to hear themselves more distinctly, then each heard the other, and the music grew in intensity and those jam sessions were really something else… at the Cellar, and on weekends, at the Coffee Gallery.
It was all a part of that community spirit which existed, the spirit that both allowed me to be on “this trip” and to live freely in the midst of it. The life of North Beach nourished me, fed my spirit and my body. It was fun to be with this happy throng, to share with them the sounds of talk, laughter, music, nature, the clanging of the cable car bell, the sound of the seagulls, Sonny’s saxophone, Max’s bass fiddle, Bill Wiesjon’s piano, Chuck Taylor’s drums.
What are the basic needs of man? What did I learn during this time? I lived very contentedly on almost nothing. I required little sleep and little food. I drank water copiously, had abundant sunshine, walked and ran tremendous amounts, meditated, rested much, did not feel the need for sex, though I enjoyed frequent human companionship, or at least proximity.
I came to regard my needs as so scant that you could say that what you need is what you want. Air, water, rest, exercise, a little food, this is all I seemed to need.
I did have an acute sense of something like regret or sorrow that other people were not enjoying existence as much as I was then. If only they could sit more quietly and look, listen, feel. I felt that people could live better that way and that society would be better, life would be better that way. But I didn’t talk. I didn’t think I could start talking and somehow teach people to be that way, change the world.
When I finally did decide to end this period, I just hoped that somehow, some way, I could express what I had experienced and learned and somehow bring some of it back into existence, at least into my own existence, and perhaps for others as well…
--by Richard Whittaker; Dec 21, 2007