May. 2, 2019

The Blind Spot We Harbor, the Revolution to Come By Philip Shepherd (2012), Author of Radical Wholeness and New Self, New World


I believe that humanity can survive the crises that are mounting around us – but that our ability to make it will depend on us forging a new kind of clarity. 

Specifically, we need to shed light on the story we tell ourselves about what it means to be human.  It’s a story almost too familiar to question, yet it provokes fantasies of limitless growth and power, and puts us on a collision course with the realities of our world.

I believe this story is the single greatest danger to our survival. 

I also believe that the single most dangerous effect of this story is the way it estranges us from our own bodies, and makes that feel normal.

It is clear to most people that the way we are living is not sustainable. It is clear in the damage we are inflicting on the ecosystem on which we rely; in the cataclysmic rate of species extinction; in the pressures of a growing human population on the earth’s finite resources; and even in the stress we carry in our bodies’ day in, day out. We try to lessen our impact by changing our behavior, and such changes are important – but their effect is dwarfed by the sheer scale and momentum of what we face. Our instinct to seek more control over our situation is the familiar reflex that created it in the first place.  The real challenge we face is to surrender our agendas of control, and turn our hearts instead to the task of coming into harmony with our world.

Living in the head and experiencing all our thinking there distorts and impoverishes our sense of being and belonging, because when thinking cuts itself off from the body, it encloses itself from our living reality. The body holds the deepest currents of our being, and is our bridge to the life of the world around us – the being of the world. By distancing the center of our thinking from all that, we enter a kind of alienation that makes us feel like spectators on the events that surround us. Furthermore, we start managing from on high what we cannot experience, because head-centric thinking is keen to create structures of control, systemization, judgment and acquisition. But being out of touch and off balance ourselves, we can only seed more imbalance with every willful, managerial impulse – even when our impulses spring from an agenda that seeks to improve things. Because disconnected reason tacitly expresses a contempt for the body, it will overlook the problem of how our relationship with the body affects our behavior. This is our blind spot – and it is a towering liability, because our relationship with the world can only mirror and express the relationship we have with our own bodies. Having estranged ourselves from the body and its wisdom, we find ourselves also estranged from the world and its wisdom.

NATURE BECOMES MOST REAL when it moves from the head to the heart. Reversing biodiversity collapse and slowing climate change cannot be accomplished solely through politics, science, or technology. Success will require a far larger public constituency than exists today, one with a greater emotional and spiritual understanding of the interdependence of all species. While such understanding might be learned from a book, it can only be felt with one's feet on the ground.

We cannot begin to reign in our ecological madness until we recover what the body knows and learn to accord with it. To root ourselves in that accord is to flood the emptiness of our lives with the experience of the present – the only true way to begin to harmonize with reality. Of course, just as the executive power of an institutional hierarchy believes in its own superior intelligence, so does the head – imposing its will on the body, overriding its subtle genius, and obscuring the world’s harmony.

We cannot align with the body’s subtle genius by adopting new ideas about ‘how to be’. In fact, to be directed by ideas, however progressive they may be, is to be ruled by the head. What is needed is a new experience that will put us in touch with our being so that it can speak to us about all that is.  We need practices that will help us beyond ‘listening to the body’ and instead enable us to listen to the world through the body. The task is not to make the body do new things that are good for us, but to surrender the tyrant’s place in the head and yield to our embodied wisdom – which belongs to the world as much as to us, and knows the whole so intimately that it recognizes its steadfast, unseen gaze in each individual pebble, star and blade of grass.

Top-down hierarchies – whether in your society or your self – maintain their power by disconnecting you from the guidance of the world and the richness of the present, features that can speak only to your wholeness and which lie beyond all ideas. 

The depth of our cultural message that the head should rule has left us in thrall to reason, blind to its utter impotence regarding what matters most in our own lives. Think about it: you cannot reason your way into the present; you cannot reason your way into love; you cannot reason your way into a harmony of being. More than that, though, as long as the head rules it keeps you from truly feeling and answering to the currents of your own being; it fragments you on the most personal level, so that even as you obsess over refining your ideas about how best to supervise your progress, you sabotage any possibility that you might respond to your circumstances with your full and unified being – because this inner tyranny obliterates being and silences the body’s wakeful attunement.

Returning to the body’s subtle wisdom – the very foundation of your vibrant being – and restoring it to a place of preeminence effectively deflates the influence of those who wish to barter for your power. Relinquishing the frenzied realms of spectatorship and oversight, you return to the calm clarity of the present – fully participant in your own life, and in the life around you. By yielding the head’s need to control, you discover a harmony that is not yours to possess, but yours to feel and live and support. By yielding within yourself the head’s obsession with order, you discover a deeper grace. Break the confines of cultural conformity and begin to live authentic and embodied lives.