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 by autumn 2017.[audio:http://www.philipshepherd.com/NewSelfNewWorld-Introduction.mp3|autostart=no]
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.
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.
Read the first chapter of New Self, New World
Subscribe and receive a PDF of the chapter "The Elements of Myth" for free.