Welcome to the Art of Humanity, where we explore creativity + consciousness to allow you and your business to evolve. My guest today is Philip Shepherd (you may have heard me quote him if you listened to the previous episode with Zach Leary).
Philip is recognized as an international authority on embodiment. His unique techniques have been developed to transform our experience of self and world, and are based on the vision articulated in his celebrated books, New Self New World (2010) and Radical Wholeness (expected for release on Nov 2017). The approach he takes heals the frantic, restless pace of the intelligence in the head, which tends to run on overdrive, by uniting it with the deep, present and calm intelligence of the body.
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1. Philip, you are an international authority on embodiment. What exactly does this strange word mean: Embodiment. And why does it matter today?
It’s a great place to start because in our culture we so deeply misunderstand embodiment. We’re a culture so devoted to our head that we live in our heads. We’re so mired in that paradigm that embodiment seems to mean “listening to the body” but if you examine the metaphor it’s basically telling you that your body is in the room next door and the best thing you can do is to put your ear to the wall to find out what’s going on the other side. To listen to the body is to remain divided by it, which is not the same as embodiment. In my work, I do not talk about “listening to the body” I do talk about “listening to the world through the body.”
Embodiment to me really means the full activation of my intelligence. I find it strange that we’ve so privileged the intelligence of the head. We’ve come to believe we can think more clearly with a cut-off portion of our intelligence than we can with the intelligence of our whole being.
2. Do we have the ability to access this simple wisdom of our hearts through our minds or is it something we need to embody as a whole?
I don’t think we can make much progress as a culture until we look at the story that is driving us. Any culture is an aggregation of architecture and language and beliefs and hierarchies and values – ways of being that communicate a very specific idea of what it means to be human. And right now we’re driven by a story that’s chasing phantoms and fantasies and then we wonder why we’re alienated and out of sorts and disconnected. So, even your question about connecting your mind and the heart – I would crack that open a bit because, to me, the mind, the heart, and the pelvic bowl are three vital centers of intelligence in the body…sort of in line with the Chinese Dantian.
The heart is sort of like a flower that opens when it’s nourished and the nourishment that sustains the heart in its opening to the world is the nourishment of your being. It’s the lower intelligence in the pelvic bowl – it’s as if the heart is rooted there. So if your heart is cut off from your being, what’s it expressing? If your being is lit up with joy, the heart opens to that joy and expresses it. It takes its cue from your being. To me, the heart is like a portal and it’s where my wholeness meets the wholeness of the world. And if I had not enabled myself to come to rest in that being, that I’m not in that wholeness and I haven’t that wholeness available to meet the world’s wholeness. So, we’re taxing the heart with demands and expectations that strike me as being a little bit unfair to it. Because it’s like asking a flower to open without providing it roots.
3. Your work is a byproduct of your experience of the world. You live in Toronto and it seems you travel a lot. You’re pretty grounded yet have this infinite awakeness to your being. I’d love to get some context around why you do the work you do. When did this embodiment experience start happening to you and how can we experience this aliveness – and learn to be more present in our bodies?
“When one is pretending, the entire body revolts” – Anais Nin
That sums up how I felt as a teenager it’s like all of the adults were inviting me to some fantasy and it was like make believe but no one actually let on that they knew it was make-believe and I could feel my being violated by the demands to conform with ways of thinking and values and ways of being in the world. And so, when I was 18 I sort of knew that my culture would take me down if I didn’t get out of it. So I went to England and bought a bicycle and headed off for Japan and cycled through Europe and the Middle East – and I was alone on this bicycle. Talk about embodiment! When you’re sleeping outside and every bend you go around is one you’ve never been around in your life. It’s so liberating because you’re almost of necessity drawn back to that deep, deep knowing – that sense of security within yourself that is your core of your being.
And when I finally came back to my home, almost two years had elapsed – it was the first time I felt culture shock. And that was the greatest gift that I could have come home with because I came home able to ask questions of what, before I left was just hidden assumptions that I could no more see than the wallpaper you took for granted. The experience that arose that from that two-year stint of travel really formed the book, New Self New World – even though it was really some decades in the making.
3. As you talk about in your book everything I’ve been reading about human consciousness talks about the need for a paradox of our existence so that we can engage in a holistic experience. As someone listening who may live a typical day-to-day, how do we open our hearts to the ability to be curious about another possible existence out there and does that impede on our ability to be who we are today?
Curiosity is certainly the engine that drives the quest. ‘Quest’ itself is the word that “question” comes from. In my work and in my life, the deepest estrangement is the division between my thinking and my being. The body is just demeaned – this subtle, fluid, attuned intelligence of the body is eclipsed to such an extent that we no longer retain the ability to even recognize that it’s there – and then the question then is – it’s a process of undoing – how do we undo the divisions and compartmentalization of the body?
Someone asks us a question and we become analytical. But our intelligence is a unity – the whole of your being can participate in the analysis just like the whole of your being can participate in art and pleasure. So we can begin to soften the division of the intelligence of the head from the heart from the pelvic bowl. Everything is out of whack.
As a kid, all of our movies were about romance and love and not sex. Now it seems movies are about sex and no romance. Can we not bring these together? They’re one expression of the unity of being. There’s no quick fix despite what is practiced by various modalities. It’s a matter of softening into self-knowledge. But even to say that is a misunderstanding created by the fact that we live in our heads. We think self-knowledge is something gained as we discover ourselves. Inner work is crucial but the task of inner work is to find the divisions and barriers that separate you from the world.
4. We want to live with Grace and we talk about living through our heart but it needs to flow through us with compassion. I think you’re saying that this leads to self-knowledge. And there’s so much transformation that can happen at this point. How do we simplify this concept?
There’s real value in bringing it down to simplicity. As you get underway in liberating from yourself from the structure of our culture’s story what you recognize is that what you’re undoing is within you – it’s not outside of you. You live with prohibitions against experiencing your wholeness. So, something as simple as the breath that the whole of the body can be available to the breath than you get these insights into how you’re holding tension in the belly. And the body softens, as it softens into its natural fluidity. The body is 65% water. As you identify with the true nature, you experience the breath as a wave that travels throughout the body. Our culture deeply neglects what is felt in the body. We don’t even have a word for what is felt in the body, unlike some other cultures.
Our culture deeply neglects what is felt in the body. We don’t even have a word for what is felt in the body, unlike some other cultures.
5. I had a dream where I was in the middle of the ocean, and I felt weightless. And there were dolphins and whales and it was a beautiful experience. When I woke up and I felt my body still floating on the water. And then I felt I’m human having a human experience. I could feel both sides of the spectrum: the weightlessness of the water and this presence. And then the hardness of being on land. My body and my mind awakened to being on this Earth…what does this mean?
I wonder if part of that hardness is coming from that state of dream consciousness back to the hardness of the story and culture that shapes our world. Because there are such fluidity and such spaciousness in each moment. I think the ocean is a brilliant metaphor for that. But we’re trained to turn the self into a thing. And to see what’s around us as things.
The most experimentally real aspect of our world is on the quantum level where consciousness and matter are inseparable and non-local connections are commonplace. It’s the nature of our world. Until you unclench the body and soften it into that oceanic limitless you’re incapacitating your ability to experience that.
6. There’s a simplicity to it. But at the same time, I’m an empath and there are all of these tools that I can use to experience life in an alive, astute way. At the same time, there’s a dark side to this. Feeling the intensities and feelings in their natural state are mixed. And it’s not always this uplifting experience. How do we live in the complexity of it all with Grace? And is there a need to be sensitive with groundedness when you’re experiencing this approach to life?
Because we live in our heads we misunderstand what intelligence is. We understand it as such a tiny part of a vast spectrum. Sensitivity is reactive. If the retina of the eye didn’t react, we wouldn’t see.
Life is everything: it’s grief and tenderness, heartbreak, beauty, and joy and savagery – it’s all there. But that Grace – we think can self-achieve it. We think we can possess these qualities or self-achieve harmony. All of those qualities belong to the present. So, the present is always in a state of Grace. The present is always at peace. The present is always in harmony. And if you surrender to the present bodily – and find your groundedness within that sensitivity then you partake to the Grace that’s part of the present. You partake of its peace and harmony – and you don’t possess or acquire any of those qualities any more than you can achieve wholeness. You are whole. The world knows nothing but wholeness. Everything leans on everything. You can’t achieve wholeness but you can surrender to it.
In that state of being – in that surrender – you’ll be touched by the Grace of the present and in the joy. And even when grief and pain come your way – because it doesn’t keep any of it at bay, that’s the nature of life. But the difference is that you’re never alone with it. There’s always the companionship of the present with you in it.
7. What we’re finding is that everything that we’ve been exploring in spirituality is finally backed by science now. I find this fascinating that everything we’re exploring as simple assumptions is now becoming facts. Not to nerd out on quantum physics, but how does the spike in the Schuman resonance influence consciousness?
The more abstract our life becomes, the more we disconnect from the Earth. Our accelerated abstractions cannot come to rest – they’re always moving. And I think there’s an immutable connection between human consciousness and the Earth’s resonance. And I look at what’s ahead and where we’re evolving and we seem to be fixated on the idea that knowledge will save us.
The assumption is everywhere but then hold on, if knowledge could save us, wouldn’t be in much better shape as a species than we were 2000 years ago when we thought the sun moved around the Earth? We didn’t know there was a capillary system in the body. We were ignorant but the fact is that we stretched the web of life on Earth to such an extent that it’s starting to fray. And that fraying is the result of knowledge. Knowing how to burn petrol chemicals and plastic chemicals and make chemicals.
Knowledge is lethal unless it’s counterbalanced by self-knowledge. And self-knowledge requires the body. You can’t open your being to a child playing in the grass to a tree in all of its magnificence except through the body. Without the countervailing grounding quality of self-knowledge that’s only gained with humility. Humility comes from the same word as “humble” and “human” and without that, I worry about the accelerating frequencies of human consciousness at large.
8. I know all of this, but why am I still in my head sometimes? I’m constantly taking a few steps and then looking behind me saying “Am I on the right path?”
This wound between our thinking and our being is what you’re experiencing. The way this shows up is that you think your thoughts or you feel your feelings. As you’re thinking and your being adhere and become a unity, you feel every thought. So the less you feel your thoughts, the more they’re head-centric. When your thoughts are felt in your pelvic bowl, then they’re in that place of integration, relationship, and connection.
9. Is this similar to the experience of feeling colors and shapes – called synesthesia?
They’re related but it is different. There’s a great culture in Africa called the Anlo-Ewe tribe and a great book on it called Culture in the Senses. This tribe has a completely different idea of what senses are than we do. Their main word for senses is “sense “feel, feel, at flesh inside.” They feel everything through the flesh of the body. All of our senses reinforce a boundary around the self. They feel everything through the flesh of the body. Whereas all of our senses reinforce a boundary.
We don’t accept balance as a sense. But it doesn’t conform to the model of reinforcing a boundary because it’s a felt relationship. I write about this at length in my new book, called Radical Wholeness. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.