I had a great article passed along to me today from the Sun, which I’ve since subscribed to. Called “Out of Our Heads,” it is an interview between writer and filmmaker Amnon Buchbinder, and author Philip Shepherd, on his book New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the 21st Century. Most key to my interests, though, is his extensive discussion of what’s been called our “second brain:” a complex, bundled network of neurons located in our digestive systems.
I highly recommend reading the entire interview, or at least the portion that is available to non-subscribers online. It is absolutely game-changing, and even makes me feel like in my own work, I need to go beyond the principle of listening to the body to something even deeper. But I will share some key quotations here without further comment.
“There is a good reason that we talk about ‘gut instinct.’ If cranial thinking sets us apart from the world, the thinking in the belly joins us to it. If the cranial brain believes itself surrounded by a knowable world that can be controlled, the brain in our belly is in touch with the world’s mystery.”
[Our cultural story] tells us that the head should be in charge, because it knows the answers, and the body is little more than a vehicle for transporting the head to its next engagement. It tells us that doing is the primary value, while being is secondary. It shapes our perceptions, actions, and experiences of life. It separates us from the sensations of the body and alienates us from the world. And there is no escaping this story; it’s embedded in our language, our architecture, our customs, and our hierarchies. It’s like the ocean, and we are like fish who swim in it and barely notice it because we’ve lived with it since infancy.
“Our culture doesn’t recognize that hub in the belly, and most of us don’t trust it enough to come to rest there….The best we can do is put our ear to the imaginary wall separating us from it and ‘listen to the body,’ a phrase that means well but actually keeps us in the head, gathering information from the outside. But the body is not outside. The body is you. We are missing the experience of our own being.”
“You cannot reason your way into being present. You cannot reason your way into love. You cannot reason your way into fulfillment. If you wish to be present, you need to submit to the present, and suddenly you find yourself at one with it.”
“The precondition to sensitivity is stillness. In the same way that a pond on a still day will visibly register the smallest insect alighting on its surface, but on a windy day it won’t, our ability to feel the whole is directly proportional to our ability to become still within ourselves.”
Our bodies typically carry so much habitual and residual tension within them that our intelligence is confused by all that white noise. The tension is a result of emotions and ideas that haven’t been integrated. You get a certain abstract idea that seems right to you, but if you hold on to it too tightly, it will stand between you and your responsiveness to the world, disrupting the information coming to you through the body. It’s the same with emotions. To survive, we sometimes put our emotions on hold for decades before we’re strong enough to integrate them.
“Where there is no harmony, there will be stress and strife and tension. The tragedy of our culture is that we misunderstand harmony to mean order, because when you’re living in your head, order is all you can perceive. And the more you order things and systematize things and get them ‘right,’ the safer you feel. But harmony is the opposite of control: it’s an organic whole in which every part answers to every other part. That also describes the reality of the universe.”
“The more sensitive you are to the world around you, the more responsive you are. That ability to respond is the basis of responsibility.”
“A lot of those wonderful body-work practices still emphasize how important it is to ‘listen’ to the body. My work is not about ‘listening to the body.’ It’s about listening to the world through the body. Once you come to rest in the body, you come to rest in the wholeness that is the trembling world itself.”
“There’s a restless emptiness at our core, an emptiness that has obliterated our sense of ‘enough.’ Our relationship with our body is broken, but it is always the last thing we think about. We try to fix our lives or the world.”