“Inhabiting your body – reuniting with its intelligence – is one of the most potent political statements you can make”- P. Shepherd: How I came to articulate my calling in this lifetime
Credit for image goes to Philip Shepherd.
I went into massage school a few years ago mentally excited to learn all about the body, and to be able to use my body instead of sitting at a desk in front of a computer (no judgment for those who do, just not for me) all day. I knew getting through massage school would only be the beginning of something, and would serve as a foundation, a place to jump off from, a sort of point of entry into the realm of healing arts- like a passport into another country- and that I’d most definitely be learning many other modalities. I didn’t know where I’d end up, though. Part way through massage school, I came into contact again with something I remembered having contacted in high school when I worked with animals at a vet – I understood that when I put my hands on flesh, there is something more to this being than just gross anatomy, flesh, and bones. I knew something eternal was housed, something I was a part of, something universal, something beautiful, something I loved. And it broke open my heart in a good way. I wanted to serve it, love it.
For one of my classes in massage school I had to do a project- and it was pretty open ended- just so long as it had to do with massage. It was during this time that I began to articulate a knowing that I’d been putting together based on books I’d read, and experiences I’d had, and maybe some old knowing that was now just swelling up in my own bones- looking for expression. I did not end up with any sort of tangible, observable object, chart, or graph. I ended up with a bit of a rallying speech, a manifesto perhaps that I delivered with passion. It is simple, but operates on the understanding (premise) that we make sense of, and organize/integrate our outside worlds/experience via the most powerful of our senses-touch; that our Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) helps to organize our Central Nervous system (CNS), that, this organization impacts our realities in an outside-in kind of approach, that what our bodies experience, helps to create our identities/ego, and perhaps vis versa and that disruption in the flow between the two (i.e. separation based on the fact that we regard our minds as supreme “knowers”, and stop listening to our bodies or even regarding our bodies) contributes to a loss of self, and as I have more recently come to understand- a feeling of separation from the whole (the body of humanity and the body of the earth). I will post it below so you can see what I mean:
THE PROPOSAL: BY REINTEGRATING BODIES AND MINDS, MASSAGE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD
Let us assume the belief that all dysfunction within human beings stems from a loss of self. Whether it be manifested mentally or physically. It is my proposal that we as massage therapists and body workers, have the tools to harness the great healing power of reintegrating bodies and minds. In doing so, we are able to help people re-integrate with the world, one body at a time. It is my belief, that taken to a macro scale- this can change the world.
- All tissues and organs of the body develop from 3 primitive layers of cells that make up the early embryo:
1. -Endoderm: Viscera
2. -Mesoderm: Muscles, Bones, Connective Tissue
3. -Ectoderm: Skin and Brain/Nervous System
- CNS is organized and developed by the PNS (Outside- In)
- Case of Schizophrenics shows us that the loss of connection between body and ego results in loss of identity; loss of connection to reality
- Embryological Law: The earlier a function develops, the more fundamental; Skin is oldest organ of body
- Piece of skin the size of a quarter contains:
1. More than 3 million cells
2. 100 to 340 sweat glands
3. 50 nerve endings
4. 3 feet of blood vessels
5. Estimate of 50 receptors per 100 square millimeters
6. 640,000 sensory receptors
7. Tactile points vary from 7-135 per square centimeter
8. Well over half a million sensory fibers FROM THE SKIN ENTERING THE SPINAL CORD by the posterior roots
- “Gentled” Rats vs. “Ungentled” Rats: The latter is bewildered and tense, while the former is secure in any handler’s hands
- Margaret Meade: New Guinea Tribes Study
1. Arapesh: Suckling and fondling, lots of attention during nursing, children never put down, always carried, joy and devotion toward rearing children results in an “easy, gentle, receptive, unagressive adult personality; and a society in which competitive or aggressive games are unknown, and in which warfare, in the sense of organized expeditions to plunder, conquer, kill, or attain glory, is absent” (Job)
2. Mundagamor: before child is born, much discussion on whether to let it survive, child rearing is not a joy, infants can sometimes be hung on a wall while mother works, only suckles when crying cannot be stopped- no touching or fondling, just suckling til suckling is over- infant has to fight for its food, which infuriates the mother- these people grow to be “an aggressive, hostile people who live among themselves in a state of mutual distrust and uncomfortablenss. They are cannibals.” (Job)
– What if we raised our children with more mind-body awareness? What if our world leaders had more mind-body awareness?
-And for those of us already in the world: If we all receive the same information, but each of us interprets it differently- some positively, some with a negatively- based, say, on our history of touch, or lack thereof- is it possible, based on what we know of the power of touch in organizing information and reality, to override those negative experiences, and perhaps help people to be more loving, and less violent?
– I believe we have become a bunch of ‘heads’ walking around lost in our thoughts, completely cut off from our bodies; that this has allowed our government (and many other institutions) to get away with horrendous violations of human rights (from Gitmo, to the Patriot Act) without people causing a revolution in the streets. This is how we have war, how we have climate crisis—and yet we do nothing.
– I believe there is an urgency in our times, a consciousness that is urging us to wake up and take stock to avert something disastrous- some of us will get it, others won’t; and I believe that some of us have been called (consciously or not) to help each other wake up, to re-integrate people’s bodies and minds (to help create presence in this world where we have been so distracted), to be a part of the force trying to re-integrate us all into one whole again; to bring people back to earth, back to themselves, back to each other.
– I believe this re-integration of bodies with minds, with bodies to bodies, bodies to the world will help heal and save this world.
– Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin- Ashley Montagu
– Job’s Body- Deane Juhan
– Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair- Miriam Greenspan
Ok, so that was my first attempt to “get at” what I was “getting at”. Fast forward a year or so, and I’m in Structural Integration Training and my world is busting open again with this deeper and deeper affirmation, that, yes, the body is amazing, its well-being SO enmeshed with our total well-being, and our true potential as human beings. For some unexplainable reason, unlocking our bodies potential, somehow unlocks our spiritual potential and gives us access to our inner resources, and sensates us to resources outside of us also- it puts us deep in the seat of our bodies, our souls, and places us more rootedly into the palm of the collective consciousness, the All, the One. Somehow getting inside our bodies deepens our connection to the All, and somehow we get that WE ARE NOT SEPARATE from each other or the planet. Don’t ask me how this works- I can only explain it in terms of concepts- that what happens on a mircro level- i.e. our bodies, happens on a macro level- i.e. the Earth’s body (which I believe is a big generator of the All, perhaps THE generator of the human collective consciousness/Source/All…but then there is the cosmos and the universe…and that’s probably all part of it too…but I’m onto a more particularly human dilemma- which mostly concerns that the PLANET EARTH, our most sacred and primary body is IN TROUBLE). And that when we heal ourselves, we heal each other, and the Planet Earth.
Fast forward a few more months, and I’m sitting in the Landmark Advanced Course- and I’m getting that its all fine and great that I’m healing myself, and I’m taking care of myself on the micro level- which, honestly, is enough for many of us. If we can get right with ourselves, we have done a life’s worth of work. But Landmark is hammering it into my mind, that EVERYONE ELSE MUST GET IT. Meaning, I can’t stop at just healing myself. And for some reason, after getting over the overwhelm that this causes in an individual, and understanding this doesn’t mean I have to “take care” of every single person in the world, as in- deplete all my resources til I have nothing left to give- no, I must only learn how to enroll the world into a new consciousness (M-L-K- “I -have- a- Dream”-style), use whatever goddess given gifts I’ve been given to lead anyone and everyone who’s willing to listen, to their own self-empowerment; trust that true self-empowerment is only ever in alignment with lifting up others- because one gets that he/she is part of the All; that we are all the same thing and that no one is free until we all are- I am exhilarated. And terrified…
The culmination of this course, my experiences in bodywork/massage, my own research, and then stumbling across Philip Shepherd’s Manifesto spoke directly to who I am and what I want to stand for in the world: Unity in body and mind, humanity and earth. Wholeness. Connection.
Here is a man articulating this concept, in his own way, but nonetheless on to what it is I’ve been trying to articulate and “get at” in my own processes, and making his life about it. His understanding has contributed to mine, and will undoubtedly be integrated into whatever next step I take. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspires me.
Without much further ado:
Manifesto The Embodiment Manifesto
By Philip Shepherd,
Author of New Self, New World
The Revolution and the Blind Spot
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 that story is the single greatest danger to our survival.
I also believe that the single most dangerous effect of that 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 that sustains us; in the Armageddon 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. If we are to come into harmony with the world, we need more than adjustments to our way of living – we need a revolution in our understanding of ourselves. To make matters even more challenging, the revolution that is needed sits firmly in our culture’s blind spot. This has always been the nature of revolutions. In our case, that blind spot involves our relationship with our bodies.
It was once considered self-evident that the earth was the center of the universe, and that everything else – the stars, the planets, the sun – revolved around it. Our experience supported our flawed knowledge: standing on the earth, you felt that you were at rest – not hurtling through space at over 18 miles per second. The Copernican Revolution changed all that by identifying the sun as the center of the solar system. It was a paradigm shift that made sense of the movements of the heavenly bodies, and disclosed the harmony of the system as a whole.
Today it is similarly understood that the head is the center of the psyche, and that every aspect of the self – our thoughts, our emotions, our desires and senses – is set in orbit by what lies within our cranium. In this case, though, our knowledge supports our flawed experience: that is, we learn from our culture that the head is our center, and as we incorporate that knowledge it orients our experience. This socially-ingrained, head-centric way of being is contrary to a host of ancient cultures that experience their center in the belly – Chinese, Mayan, Incan and Japanese, to name a few; it discounts facts of our own physiology – that we have a second brain in the belly, for instance; and it turns a blind eye to history and the roots of language, which show that eight thousand years ago, Europeans too experienced their center in the belly, and that it took millennia for that center to migrate up through the body to where it resides today.
Living in the head and experiencing all our thinking there creates a basic distortion in our perceptions, because it disconnects us from the life of our own bodies and from the life of the world around us. We become alienated spectators, distanced from ourselves, our lives and our world; furthermore, we start managing from on high what we cannot experience, because head-centric thinking incites us to trust in the agendas of control, systemization, judgment and acquisition. But being off center and out of balance ourselves, we can only create more imbalance with every willful impulse. Even as we seek to behave ethically, our main focus is on changing our material actions; we almost neglect the necessity of changing our relationship with our material self. 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 deafened ourselves to its wisdom, we find ourselves also estranged from the world, and also deaf to its wisdom.
We cannot endure the mislocated center of the self, and nor can the world; we need a revolution as radical as the one that brought to light the true center of the solar system. We need a revolution that will challenge the rule of the head and bring us home to the hub of our being. We need a revolution that is at once deeply personal, and as boldly political in its implications as were the insights of Copernicus. And just as Copernicus helped to disclose the harmony of the heavenly bodies, the emerging revolution will disclose the true harmony of this heavenly life on earth.
Inhabiting your body – reuniting with its intelligence – is one of the most potent political statements you can make.
Disembodiment is tacitly modeled and promoted by every institutional hierarchy in our society – whether corporate, political or religious. Each of them is shaped around a top-down ‘command and control’ power structure run by the head of the organization, with executive power consolidated at headquarters – which might be head office, the nation’s capital or the Vatican. The implicit message embedded in these hierarchies is that the head should rule.
When we internalize that message, we reinforce the hold those hierarchies enjoy. That is, if the head rules the self, hierarchical power structures feel like the natural model of governance; so we are thereby conditioned to accept that ‘heads’ of business, politics and religion should rule our society. If we reject the leadership of a particular ‘head’, we will seek to replace that individual with another ‘head’ – unable or unwilling to consider other ways of organizing human affairs. Of course, head-centric governance may be the only viable system for a populace that lives in their heads. Creating a workable alternative would require a paradigm shift in our experiential ‘normal’, one that replaced ‘headism’ with the sensitized unity of a fully embodied intelligence. As a new ‘normal’, that would change everything.
Such a revolution begins to take root in each of us with the simple recognition that we have internalized the hierarchical message – that its top-down power structure lives in us and rules us. In fact, the growing gap we tolerate between rich and poor is a direct expression of the gap we tolerate within ourselves, between our heads and the parts of the self that sit below the head. We assign executive power to our personal headquarters – ensconced in the cranium – and grant it decision-making over the rest of the corporeal (or corporate) self, otherwise known as the body. And 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. In reality, the body is no more mindless than the factory workers or city councilors or lay priests at the bottoms of institutional hierarchies. Every cell and system of the body participates in our thinking. The head excels at abstract thinking, but the body’s genius marries us to the living pulse of the world – just as the pope is concerned with ruling the people, but a lay priest is attuned to their moment-by-moment hopes and struggles.
When you internalize the top-down mode of being – whether knowingly or not – it keeps you in a divided state, creating imbalance and disharmony. Such a state feels normal enough, because you are relentlessly habituated to it by the story that surrounds you – a story told by the language, the architecture, the hierarchies, the customs and even the icons of your culture. The standardized symbols for washrooms, for instance – icons that have been refined over decades so that you can effortlessly recognize yourself in them – show a slightly oversized circle for a head, and a body below that isn’t even connected to it. Once you internalize the pervasive message that ‘disconnection is normal’, you lose the ability to sense your own wholeness, and eventually even forget what wholeness is – mistaking it for sitting up in your head and ‘listening to the body’ across the divide that separates you from it. When you cannot center your sense of truth in your wholeness, truth itself becomes fractured – and in its place you can only substitute a sense of ‘should’, which is provided by your executive powers of decision-making. In this way you uphold and refine what is in effect an inner tyranny – polishing the set of ideas, political and otherwise, by which you ‘should’ live. These ‘shoulds’, divorced from your wholeness, are shaped by the messaging of your culture and its head-centric hierarchies.
There is a second, more socially damaging outcome brought about by a top-down mode of existence: being estranged from your own sense of wholeness is anxiety inducing – and such anxiety is the foothold by which those who wish to wield power keep others off balance. That is why they stoke anxiety so deliberately: the more anxiety we feel, the more control we feel we need. Every social hierarchy promises to provide you with more control in exchange for being ceded more power. Through ads and messaging, corporations offer you ways to control your cravings, your lawn, your entertainment, your finances, your shape, and even your anxiety itself. Politicians offer to control crime, the economy and social unrest, and to defend your right to accumulate more and more capital. Religious institutions offer control over sin, your afterlife, your guilt and your sense of virtue.
Ultimately, our head-centric way of being keeps us in a stressful, self-perpetuating loop:
• top-down living disrupts wholeness;
• a lack of wholeness induces anxiety;
• anxiety makes us yearn for more control;
• and more control is promised by top-down management – both within the self and within society – even as it further disrupts wholeness.
As this frenzied cycle goes round and round, it corrodes our sense of connectedness.
The foremost message of our hierarchies – that the head should rule – has been deeply implanted into our psyches, leaving us off balance and bewildered. At the same time it 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, living in your head keeps you from truly feeling and flowing with 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.
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. Returning to the body’s alert 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. Doing so, though, requires the journey of heroic surrender that is illuminated by the myths of the world: surrendering the tyrant’s place of rule in the head, you allow your center to drop through your body and come to rest in the ancient hub of being that lies below your navel. Relinquishing the frenzied realms of spectatorship and oversight, you return to the calm and 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 enhance. By yielding within yourself the head’s obsession with order, you discover grace.
The most direct political statement you can make, then, is to reclaim your embodied wholeness. Attuned as it is to the mindful present, attuned to the frail, robust, transient beauty of life, it will also attune you to an understanding of justice that lies beyond dogma or self-interest. This is not about asserting control, but about achieving harmony; not about substituting a new set of ideas for an old, but about living the wordless truth of the moment; not about getting ahead, but about embracing your life, in all its mystery and urgency and love. And it begins by walking away from the entrenched habits of top-down living, and reclaiming the sensational, clear, ever-shifting genius of your full and undivided being.
If you take that first step, your whole life will change. And the world around you will follow.
Being the Change You Want to See
Learning how to liberate yourself from the frenzied treadmill of the head is far from easy – it requires a skill set that is not readily available, and goes against the grain of our culture’s messaging and conditioning. On the most personal level the process may feel as monumental as the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, because it threatens to change everything: old, stuck pieces of yourself topple and make room for a newness of breath and ease and clarity, and a dangerous awakening to the deep, true passion and calling of your life. Opening to the world you find not obstacles, but guidance; not indifferent geography, but companionship; not resources, but a living web that shares your own ancestral origins in star matter.
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 – 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 a practice 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 expression in each individual particle.
Many exercises are available to help us, and many are needed – you cannot simply wish your way back into a unity of being. One exercise that is central to my own work is called The Elevator Shaft. It is designed to bring you home to your true center – the place in which all the orbiting concerns of your life are brought into coherence, and the harmony that guides the world is disclosed. To begin the exercise you need to locate your perineum. It sits in the center of the pelvic floor, amid all those parts of yourself our culture warns us not to discuss in polite company. You locate the perineum by engaging the muscle that you use to stop yourself from peeing. Once you locate it, relax and bring your attention to your breath. Allow the wave of the in-breath to deepen into the body until it makes contact with the perineum, and then release the out-breath from there. Be patient with this.
Now imagine within your body an empty shaft that runs from the top of your head down to your perineum. The back of this shaft includes the spine, and the main part sits in front of it. At the top of the shaft, up in the head, locate the center of your awareness. This is ‘the elevator’, and you can experience it in any shape or form that feels right to you. You’ll find that you can actually move it around inside your head – back and forth, or side to side, or even in a circle.
Now allow that center of your awareness to begin a smooth descent through the shaft. This is not an exercise in imagination – it is about actually feeling that centre moving down through your body, the way a pearl might float down through a jar of olive oil. It’s important to feel its journey without gaps or jumps. And if you should find at any point that the elevator stalls out and seems unable to drop further, understand this as a gift. That is, you have disclosed a little shadow or block in the body – part of your Berlin Wall, standing between you and the core of your being. If you offer that shadow your full acceptance and your love, it will warm and soften and melt back into the whole, so that the elevator can continue dropping.
By supporting the journey of your centered awareness with patience and loving attention, and maybe even following it down your body with your hand if that helps, you’ll find that the elevator can continue its descent until it arrives at the perineum. When it does, when the center of your conscious awareness comes to rest there, simply pay attention to how different the world feels, to your sense of wholeness, and to any emotions that might stir to the surface. By remaining at rest on the perineum, you are allowing all the scattered bits of your life to come into relationship with the core of your being, integrating and harmonizing. The more often you return to the core of your being, the easier the journey becomes, and the more natural it feels.
You can practice the Elevator Shaft exercise virtually anywhere and at any time: in a grocery store or a boardroom, while partying with friends or lying alone in bed. Practicing it helps not only you, but those around you. The influence of anyone who is grounded, clear and present spreads out gently and slowly, like ripples in a pond. By returning to your own center, you help others do the same. You also come to understand that only in feeling the present as a whole can you be ushered into your own wholeness. It is an understanding that promotes compassion, responsibility, and the instinct to nurture. It is an understanding the world desperately needs. Let the revolution begin.
© 2012 Philip Shepherd All Rights Reserved