Book

New Self, New World - Philip ShepherdNew Self, New World
Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty First Century

North Atlantic Books
written by Philip Shepherd
nonfiction • 512 pages
Foreword by Andrew Harvey
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Table of contents
Foreword
Introduction


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Audio version update: I am underway with the long-awaited recording of the book. Who knew it could be so hard to find the right conditions under which to record it? The introduction is here for you to enjoy and I expect to have the entire book finished before the end of November!

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New Self, New World traverses disciplines and boundaries with ease and precision, gathering wisdom as it goes. It is a philosophical masterwork, a spiritual handbook, a sweeping historical renewal of the human story, and an alignment of the profoundest mystical teachings of the world. Between its two covers awaits a lifetime of adventure.

Description

If we were to consider the towering crises faced by the 21st century and trace them to their roots, we would find that each of them leads back to the same cultural force: the one that tells us who we are.  Our culture’s vision of what it means to be human seeps into us from infancy on – and it presents reality as a shattered world of bits and pieces that are organized by randomness and cannot be felt as a whole.  By assuring us of that, our culture tacitly informs us that wholeness is a mere phantasm, something that we shouldn’t expect to feel even in the self.  As a result, we persevere in our deeply divided lives, unaware that our failure to sense and live the wholeness of life is not germane either to our own nature, nor to that of the world itself.  It is a product of who we have become, and the stories we have come to believe.  Our culture has habituated to its own fictions.  And we suffer from mistaken identity.

The foremost sign of the effect that our tenacious fictions have on us is to be seen in the way that we live in our heads, consider that to be entirely natural, and know of no other way of being.  Living in our heads is actually so commonplace that we have come to consider it inevitable: after all, that’s where our brain is, it’s where we think – where else would our thinking self be centered?  Culturally speaking, ‘living in the head’ is the elephant in the room: it dominates all we do, and no one seems willing to start a conversation about it.

New Self, New World initiates that conversation.  The book shows that living in the head is a form of self-supervision by which we withdraw from the sensations of the body, thereby creating the essential division of self-consciousness.  Standing apart from our being, spectators on our own lives, we intervene in them and resort to telling ourselves what to do.  We are so constantly in that state of self-supervision that we habituate to it, which then makes us susceptible to supervision by others – so much so that we often barely notice when it happens: we are supervised in the workplace by rigid hierarchies and work stations; on the streets by sidewalks and signs and traffic lights; in our homes by television shows that cue our every response with laugh tracks and mood music and emotive, unreal acting; and in our personal expectations by the relentless, subliminal blandishments of our consumerist society.

As New Self, New World shows, such supervision is a form of tyranny, and results from a profound male bias in our culture that virtually disregards being and obsesses over control: we are always doing, planning, sorting, judging, calculating, out-thinking, and we provide almost no allowance for being.  In our individual, daily lives, we have all but forgotten how to just ‘be’: doing overrides being through all the moments of our waking hours, supervising thought, word and deed.  That male bias has been fostered in our culture over six thousand years – since its inception in the Neolithic Revolution – and New Self, New World tracks it by noting how, over time, the experience of the self in the body has changed.

To understand that change, it is necessary to understand that the body has two brains.  That is not a metaphoric claim, but a physiological fact.  We all know about the cranial brain – it is the one we mistakenly refer to it as the brain, suggesting it stands alone; but there is another brain, independent of the cranial brain, that lies in our gut: the enteric brain.  The cranial brain is associated with idea and analysis and the vision that guides our actions; as such, it is the center of our male intelligence, and so too the source of our doing.  The enteric brain is associated with nourishment and integration and the processes of life; as such, it is the center of our female intelligence, and so too of our being.

New Self, New World looks to language and cultural beliefs to show that in the early Neolithic era, the thinking self was experienced in the belly.  As people increasingly identified themselves as ‘doers’, that center migrated towards the head.  By 800 BC it had arrived in the chest area, and by 350 BC it had taken up residence in the head.  As our lives have grown increasingly abstract since then, it has increasingly consolidated itself there.  And that consolidation of the thinking self in the head is the experience by which we in the 21st century identify what it is to be human.

If New Self, New World is unflinching in its assessment of the story by which we live our lives, and of the impoverishment into which that story is carrying us, it is nonetheless a book of profound hope.  It gives the reader a very practical set of principles by which they can quiet the incessant chatter of the supervisor in the head and return to the genius of their integrated intelligence.  And it shows how that genius awakens us to the sacred axis within the body that brings head and belly into correspondence, and is hungry to live in the present and find guidance there.  Healing the crisis of identity into which our culture has plunged is ultimately a personal journey and will be different for each of us; but it is the most gratifying journey anyone can take, for when the self is renewed, so too is the world.

Comments

  1. Paul Hess says

    This is great theme, living in the head versus the body. But your characterization of the problem as male consciousness, is full of landmines for anyone interested in creating connection and love in the world. It sounds so far like a theory of patriarchy that blames men. So men are inherently evil, is the default explanation here, although proponents of this view deny it.

    A better explanation of gender is found in Warren Farrell’s book, The Myth of Male Power. The real issues is societies based on assumptions of scarcity and fear, which lead to hierarchies in which men have to perform and females help select the performers who are worthy of breeding under sex as procreation. Farrell’s evolutionary view is an alternative to the simple essentialism of the theory of patriarchy, even held among people who call themselves social constructionists.

    • says

      Hi Paul

      Thanks so much for your comment – I really do appreciate hearing from readers, even when they write to voice dissent. In this case, though, I don’t think there’s much disagreement between us. I don’t know if you have a copy of my book, but if so, you’ll find a kind of summary of my stance on page 349. In speaking of the change brought by the Kurgan culture, I wrote:

      “With the ripening of that change, the elements of patriarchy were upon us—and they did result from male domination, but not from the domination of women by men: that was an effect, not the cause. The root cause of patriarchy lies in the domination of the self by the male element—in the subjugation of our being and in the newfound entitlement of the abstract hetabrain. Our historic subjugation and mistrust of women precisely parallels the subjugation and mistrust of Being itself: our patrifocal culture expresses to the world the hierarchy to which we as individuals subjugate ourselves.”

      It’s kind of hard to jump into the middle of an argument like this, but what I am saying is that, like the yin and yang of the universe, we each have within us male and female aspects of consciousness. And just as we traditionally associate the female with the earth (as in “mother Earth”) and the male with the sky (where male gods traditionally dwell), the female and male elements of consciousness are associated in the body with the pelvic bowl and the head respectively. Patriarchy, and its shadow tyranny, arise not from the male aspect of our consciousness per se, but from a male consciousness that disconnects from the female. When the male and female aspects of consciousness work in balance, we find our ultimate sensitivity and awakening as human beings: both are needed, both are of value, and a problem occurs only when the male element decides to go it alone (Joseph Campbell’s definition of the tyrant indicates precisely that: “the tyrant is the man of self-achieved independence”.)

      Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened in our culture over the ages: we departed from the centre of being in the pelvic bowl, and migrated over millennia up through the body to reside in the head. Living there, in the male centre of consciousness that has turned its back on the female, leads precisely to a sense of scarcity (cut off from being, how could we not feel lacking in abundance?) and fear (cut off from our being, we are estranged from our wholeness, and how could that not be anxiety-inducing?) – just as Warren Farrell noted. To me, the problem of patriarchy cannot be solved if, as you accuse me of doing, we consider men inherently evil. The problem is a cultural one. But the patriarchy that shows up in our hierarchies and language and institutions and architecture and customs is first and foremost a mirroring of how we inhabit the body. The central tenet of the book is, “as we relate to the body, so we relate to the world”. I hope you might find the time to read it some day.

      Warm regards,

      Philip

        • says

          Thanks for your note, Belinda – and thanks, too, for recommending the book so graciously.

          I’ve found it pretty tricky to explain or summarize the book in a way that doesn’t make it sound generic. It’s hard to convey in a few words its perspective on how we arrived at this point in our cultural evolution, and on what the true challenge of our age is. Part of what makes it difficult is its outside-the-box approach: we are so oriented to assessing and naming outside forces and systems to explain our predicament, that we seem to overlook the fact that the choice we exercise in how to inhabit the body (i.e. living in the head) is skewing our perspectives so powerfully that it is actually initiating all the imbalances we perpetrate on the world around us. Of course, it’s easier for human nature to embrace the task of changing the outside world than to have to somehow change ourselves and our understanding of what it means to be human. We all want progress, but it seems no one wants to change. Let’s hope that we can catch up with reality before it catches up with us.

          Warmest regards, and again, my thanks,

          Philip