People who haven’t taken my workshop are often curious about it, and I am always eager to describe it. But in trying to do so I frequently feel as though someone deprived of their sense of smell had asked me to describe the scent of lavender. Since my teens I have been devoted to liberating myself from the specific prohibitions against thinking and feeling that are germane to my culture. I have never sought to do this by adopting another culture, for every culture comes with its own unique set of prohibitions. Every culture has its blind spots. But I owe a huge debt to other cultures for helping me raise questions about my own. The most difficult thing in the world is to identify an assumption you’ve taken into your being before you were old enough even to formulate a question about it.
My workshop invites people on a journey that tests such assumptions in the body’s neurology by disclosing the patterns they create. The culture in which we live has taught us some very basic lessons – lessons that fortify its story about what it means to be human. For instance, we learn that you can think more efficiently if you cordon off your thinking from the sensations of your being. So while speaking, you might habitually and unknowingly put your breath on hold as you reach for a thought. But doing so will also put your being on hold – for breath is the primary means by which the intelligence of your being is brought into awareness. In the same vein, we harbour prohibitions against allowing the whole of the body to be available to the breath, for how could you control what might be stirred up by the body’s activated intelligence? And maintaining control is the imperative of our culture.
We also grow up learning to place the contracted self in the foreground of our attention, which makes us self-conscious (literally, “conscious of the self”) – more aware of our personal commentary on our lives than of the life we share with the world in which we are embedded. That too is what being human means in our culture. We learn to live in our heads and treat the body as our personal bio-machine. We likewise learn that the world around us is actually no more than insensate matter obeying the laws of physics. And ultimately we learn how very alone we are, for that is also what being human means in our culture. All those lessons, and many others, live in our neurology, shaping our experience of self and world. But each of those lessons is merely a cultural artefact; and each, too, is at odds with reality.
The Radical Wholeness workshop, then, is not about communicating ideas. It is a form of play that moves through a series of deliberate, gentle practices. These are practices I developed to help expose and soften the limiting patterns in which we are all entangled – for until you encounter such patterns living within you, they will enjoy a sort of diplomatic immunity. Unseen, unnoticed, they will continually override your body’s intelligence without ever being called to account. The divided state in which such hidden patterns keep you will constantly frustrate your attempts to feel your own wholeness – even as you wonder why it’s so difficult to be present in your life.
The practices of Radical Wholeness are designed to help participants encounter and disarm those patterns, and discover what it means to bring their consciousness to rest within the wholeness of their being rather than having it stuck on top in the head as we are so used to. The workshop experientially addresses the question: “What does it mean to rest in your embodied intelligence, and how do you get there?” The work is not about listening to the body, it’s about listening to the world through the body. It is not about ’subduing’ the brilliant intelligence in the head, it is about bringing it into a balanced unity with the body’s intelligence. It moves beyond the binary, either/or choices our culture encourages between sensual thinking and abstract thinking, and helps us realize how each form of thinking finds its true strength in exchange with its polar opposite. As you deepen into the unified intelligence of your being, you are brought into the intimacy of your relationship with the world around you. You are carried out of the frenzied supervision of our cultural self-consciousness, and into the spacious ease and grace of the Present.
And when that happens for you, the intelligence of your being is experienced and understood not as something held in the container of the self, but as something held by the world in which you rest, and with which you are in continuous exchange. An experience of radical wholeness is simply that: an experience of your wholeness, rooted in the nourishment of the Present.
What do others say? Read some participants’ comments!
This talk was filmed by Allyson Woodrooffe in November 2017 at Friends House in Toronto shortly after the release of Radical Wholeness, Philip’s new book.
Two huge, long-term commitments in my life came to a sudden conclusion on the same day a little over a week ago. First, my workshop season was brought to a close with a presentation I gave at the Global Conference of the International Enneagram Association in San Antonio – which, by the way, was a fabulous event. And after five years of writing, I finally carried my new book, Radical Wholeness, over the finish line. Coincidentally, I emailed off the final changes to the book while I was at the airport on my way home from the Conference! Suddenly, the necessity of finishing it, which has compelled me for so long, and which I’ve embraced with the whole of my being – suddenly it’s disappeared, and in the wake of all that, I find myself in a bit of a daze. A daze of gratitude, coupled with a deep need to just rest.
But of course, even as those projects have come to a gratifying conclusion, other wonderful adventures await. Foremost among them are two Facilitators’ Trainings starting up as summer winds down: one in Ohio in September, and one in Ireland in October. Each Training takes place over a year and includes three five-day sessions and lots of exercises and discussions in between. It’s during these events that my work really blossoms into its fullest dimensions. Wonderful things happen when a group of committed, questing individuals comes together to discover, each in their own way, what it means to soften out of divisions and self-consciousness and into the larger harmony of their being. It’s an unforgettable year of support, adventure, and self-discovery for participants, propelled by practical, experiential means of refreshing their perceptions and experience by loosening the fetters of cultural habit.
The premise of the Training is that you can’t teach the work unless you can model it. Not everyone in the training is interested in teaching it; but everyone there is determined to undo the prohibitions against experiencing their wholeness, and is open to having fun along the way. If you’d like to know more about either Training, you can check out the Ohio Training here and the one in Ireland here. And if your interest grows as you hear more and you’d like to ask me about it directly, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. Just hit ‘Reply’.
And as summer shifts into fall, there’s much else I’m looking forward to. I’m excited to be taking my workshops back to Europe in the fall, to the USA in Jan/Feb, and to Australia and New Zealand in March/April. And I’m eagerly anticipating the big day for the official release of the book, which is November 21st. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon: just search Radical Wholeness: The Embodied Present and the Ordinary Grace of Being. Author and activist Carolyn Baker offered an endorsement of the book, and what she wrote conveys a clear and concise sense of what it is about:
In a culture as broken and fragmented as ours, this book is painfully overdue. Going beyond outdated notions of “holistic,” Philip Shepherd has captured the essence of individual embodiment and its inextricable connection with everyone and everything. What our world desperately needs now are not more smart homo sapiens, but fully present and embodied holo sapiens who feel and live in grounded inter-relatedness. In this book, Shepherd has provided us with an extraordinary tool kit that tenderly and skilfully integrates mind, body, and soul with all life in the universe. If you long to reconnect with your deeper self, other living beings, and the Earth, you must read this book.
—Carolyn Baker, Ph.D, Co-author with Andrew Harvey of Return To Joy and author of Love In The Age of Apocalypse: Cultivating The Relationships We Need To Thrive
And here’s a little excerpt from Radical Wholeness:
Myth associates a deliberate forgetfulness of the whole with the tyrant, whose quest for independence is a desire to cut away from the whole. It associates a deliberate remembrance of the whole with the hero, whose self-achieved submission is a path of reconciliation with the whole.
The hero doesn’t merely acknowledge the whole, or face it—he chooses to submit to it. Because our whole-blindness leads us to confuse the roles of tyrant and hero, this voluntary submission may seem odd. The essence of the hero as our culture sees him is that he never submits. But notice that Campbell’s phrasing describes him as a man of self-achieved submission. This is not submission to tyranny, force, or to any set of circumstances designed to bend someone into submission. In fact, the hero doesn’t submit to force, because he has already more deeply submitted to What Is. Through his living accord with the felt Present he understands what it calls him to do; and what he is called to do initiates what we speak of as the hero’s task.
The heroic submission to the Present sets up an alchemy within the self. When you submit to the Present as a felt whole—without flinching, without reservation and without needing it to be anything other than what it is—you will begin to feel its aliveness within you; and when you feel that aliveness from a place of deep stillness, you will feel a gentle tug that momentarily crystalizes your relationship to the world, and awakens the whole of your being to what is being asked of you. And then you face a choice: answer the summons or retreat from it. If you answer it, you are basically offering yourself as a lump of dough to the baker—to be kneaded that you might rise anew. And in that kneading, you will experience the breaking down of habits and the leavening chemistry of new possibilities, so that the world around you seems to change its aspect. And the hardships it throws in your path prod you to deepen into the truth of your wholeness, that you might forge in your nerveways a renewed relationship with being—a renewal that is ultimately not just for yourself, but for the benefit of the world.
As we have discussed, the dark imaginings of our culture tell us that freedom is to be found in the ability to disconnect. But the mountain brook, the child collecting pebbles, the mother’s gaze all tell another story: disconnection is the opposite of freedom. Freedom opens to everything—it welcomes the world, and allows you to play with it and be guided by it in fulfilling the purpose to which, ultimately, it has called you.
True freedom, then, is paradoxically made possible by submission—the hero’s submission to the whole; the submission that lets go of all the soul-baffling divisions we jealously guard, the crippling judgments we enforce, the cotton balls we hold within to stifle the resonance of our being. The freedom found by the hero is the freedom of fully liberating your life into the spacious Present. It’s the freedom you experience when no part of your being is held in check: the whole of it becomes available to the harmony of What Is, and expresses itself through your every response. It’s the freedom of discovering your partnership with the world. And whatever else that partnership asks of you, it always invites you yet more deeply into your wholeness. That is the freedom the world wants for you and calls from you and supports you in.
I’m in preparations for three major events over three consecutive months starting in late summer. Each of these events is huge for me, and I’d be thrilled to have any one of them happening – but to have all three gathered in a row feels like a serial blessing:
- In September I begin a Facilitators’ Training at Hope Springs Institute in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio, USA
- In October I begin a Facilitators’ Training at The Boghill Centre in County Clare, Ireland
- And in November my new book, Radical Wholeness, will be published by North Atlantic Books
New Facilitators’ Trainings
I’ve been deeply gratified by the passionate interest people have expressed for joining in a Facilitators’ Training. I feel an awakening in the world to how chronically we’ve come to live in our heads, how out of touch with our bodies we’ve become, and to the relief and fresh quickening to life that comes with a more fully embodied presence in the world. There also seems to be a growing recognition that what my work offers in that regard is unique.
Some people are drawn to the Facilitators’ Training who simply wish to open their own experience more deeply to the present; others come who understand the support it offers to a modality they already practice; and some are there to learn the work and go on to share it with others. We spend a year exploring this work: three five-day sessions together, and in between those, group video calls where we explore questions, new exercises, and other issues as they arise. What is being learned is a new way of being, and the huge rewards it brings are always in proportion to the quality of the explorations along the way.
The prerequisite for applying to the Facilitators’ Training is previous participation in a weekend workshop – but both trainings start on Monday, and are preceded by a weekend workshop, which means anyone who feels called to the Training can fulfill that prerequisite. And if you are taking both the weekend workshop and the Facilitators’ Training, you can take the workshop for half-price. If you are interested to find out more about the Facilitators’ Training, you can join us for a live video conference next Tuesday, May 16th. It starts at 7pm Eastern Time, and will run to 8pm. You can register to join it here. And for those who can’t make it then, you’ll be able to watch it on your own time as of Wednesday morning by clicking this link.
Radical Wholeness – the book
As for my book, Radical Wholeness – it’s been in the works for a while. I seem to love the challenge of sitting patiently with the inscrutables of our culture, of our personal dilemmas, and of our way of being in the world – and then with the assistance of pencil and words, gently delivering them onto the page as scrutables. I’m in ecstasy with that process on Radical Wholeness, and can’t wait for the book to be a thing in the world that people can read. In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt in which I introduce the term “the body’s energy” as a way of speaking of the unified experience of the self:
Everything we experience – how we sense the world, how we think, how we feel the body, how we open to and accord with reality—has been shaped the Story we live with; and that Story says that to be human is to be divided. To undo our divisions, we have to allow the thinking of the head to get over its sense of superiority and its need for control—and begin to discover the rich wonder of offering its gifts to the living intelligence of the body.
When you think with the whole of your being, rather than with a segregated part of it, you begin to recognize every sensation in the body as a form of thinking; and you begin to recognize the state of the body’s energy as the state of your mind. There is an identity between them. When the body’s energy is unsettled, the mind is unsettled. When the body’s energy is calm, the mind is calm. When the body’s energy is congested, so is the mind. If the mind is scattered, the body’s energy is scattered. You cannot bring your thoughts to a place of calm clarity without also bringing the body’s energy to a place of calm clarity.
So I speak of ‘the body’s energy’ as a way of speaking of a unified experience of the self. It’s a term that can help us beyond the divisions and compartmentalizing we learn from the Story – a term that includes everything you are feeling as your life right now. It covers all the sensations that show up in your body: the energy of your emotions, ideas, muscles, libido, breath, and your exchanges with the Present. The term covers the whole of your fluid, felt experience—and at the same time recognizes the body’s energy as your mind. Once you begin to feel the identity between them, the struggle to bring your thoughts to rest, the struggle to find clarity, is made easier: by noticing the body’s energy, you can learn tangible ways of moving it out of the white noise of self-conflict and bringing it into the coherence that reveals the pure signal of your being.