Radical Wholeness by Philip Shepherd

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Key Takeaways

  1. A culture’s Story shapes its artifacts and structures, as well as the thoughts and experiences of its members. Every culture’s Story about what it means to be human is unique, and every Story hides in the background of its culture, disguising itself as reality so that it remains almost invisible to its members, even as it firmly establishes what ‘feels right’ to them.
  2. Dr. Jonas Salk—who by discovering the polio vaccine saved thousands of children’s lives and never sought to profit financially from it—once remarked, “What people think of as a moment of discovery is really the discovery of a question.” When I felt stuck as a teenager in the structures of thought and perception of our culture, it wasn’t for a lack of answers—what I lacked were the crucial questions. The most difficult thing in the world is to question an assumption you’ve never consciously made—and the Story hides such assumptions in our language, our architecture, our customs, our institutions and our very neurology.4 How do you even begin to question something that is so normal it’s invisible?
  3. So speech can be thought of as a sense that facilitates discovery. When you understand it in that way, the whole of your being is invited to be present to your act of speaking. By contrast, if you believe, as our culture’s Story has it, that speech is a means of delivering your ideas, your concern will not be on discovery—it will be on the task of presentation: presenting your ideas, your opinions, and even yourself. This draws you into what I call the ‘presentation mode’.
  4. Because the senses activate our intelligence and orient us to the world, a selected set of senses will privilege a certain way of attending to it. As a child learns her culture’s model of the senses, she is learning how to perceive herself, others and the world around her, as well as how to assign value to everything. She is also learning what not to sense.
  5. The study revealed two striking results. First, traders with greater sensitivity to the inner life of their bodies had made significantly more money in the previous year. Second, the more years a trader had been working, the greater his interoception, as though the trading floor were selecting for that trait. Coates’s research demonstrates that what your being as a whole knows offers a more reliable assessment of reality than does your head’s reasoning.
  6. As you increasingly honor the body’s sensations, you increasingly understand them to constitute a language of thought that is distinct from how the head knows. What the body knows is based on a patient clarity that enables you to act from the whole of your being. But that knowing is inaccessible—and may as well not exist—when it’s been eclipsed by the driven, anxiety-laced, contracted intelligence of the head.
  7. This is so ingrained in the Story that we accept it as a given of human nature: thinking and feeling are separate. We come to believe that our thinking will be clearer if we disconnect from all the noise of the body’s sensations. This belief is instilled in us systematically in childhood. Of all the lessons we learn in the public school system, the primary one is to subdue the energies of the body and maximize the facility of the head for manipulating
  8. We all need ideals by which to orient our lives, as the polestar guides sailors—and there are many wonderful ideals to help us do that.
  9. The intelligence that lives through the body is a much-neglected resource in our abstract lives—but in hunting-gathering cultures it is the primary resource that enables them to harmonize with their world and to notice its gifts and live in accord with them.
  10. Digital information is disembodied information. It is known rather than experienced. Converting it into experience requires integration.
  11. If we are looking for a framework within which to contain the reality we belong to, we eventually have to face the fact that there is a dimension missing from our Chosen Four of space and time. The missing dimension is the one in which everything is in contact with everything else at all times. It is the dimension of unity that coexists with the dimensions of separation described by the other four. It is the dimension of nonlocality—the one that quantum mechanics has had to accommodate in the face of findings such as entanglement and the seamless interconnection of matter and mind.72 It is the dimension without which wholeness would remain the mere aggregation of its parts.
  12. Original Wisdom is another book about a European encounter with an aboriginal tribe. In this case, the European is Robert Wolff and the tribe is the Sng’oi of Malaysia. The book’s subtitle—Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing
  13. A person’s voice is like an MRI that reveals immediately how much of her body is available to the breath—and so, too, how much of her being is available to the Present. When the body is liberated from its divisions, it becomes a fluid medium through the entirety of which the breath travels like a wave. Like a living graph, the voice reveals the progress of the breath through the body—and the ways in which the body blocks that progress—to everyone within earshot.
  14. My overriding concern is with wholeness. If an idea remains unintegrated, it will thwart your wholeness—standing like a road sign between you and the world it purports to represent. When an idea is integrated, on the other hand, it will be reborn as a new sensitivity to the world. Integration is what your body’s intelligence specializes in. It is what helps you feel your way forward, guided by the pulse of the Present, rather than having to think your way forward through abstractions.
  15. These two realms of knowing—knowledge and self-knowledge—are not different varieties of the same stuff but are opposites. And they are bound by a delicate balance: the more our knowledge grows, the more our self-knowledge needs to grow. If that doesn’t happen—if the roots of our self-knowledge don’t deepen to support the growth of our knowledge—the knowledge we gain becomes lethally dangerous.
  16. Self-knowledge is imparted when ‘who you are’ is illuminated; but you cannot illuminate yourself for yourself, any more than you could see your face by shining a light on it. ‘Who you are’ is illuminated by your felt relationships with the world around you. The more deeply you come into felt relationship, the more clearly ‘who you are’ is illuminated.
  17. knowledge corresponds to analog knowledge. Self-knowledge is not contained in the head but is discovered in relationship.
  18. A hero without self-knowledge—without that inner availability to what the world is asking—is no hero at all.
  19. By contrast, the attention of the hero is world-focused.
  20. knowledge is world-centered understanding of the self. • Objective knowledge is fact based; self-knowledge is experiential. • We acquire objective knowledge; we surrender to self-knowledge. • Objective knowledge grows by accumulation; self-knowledge grows by shedding.
  21. For contrast, consider the Anlo-Ewe culture. One of their foremost markers of success is balance. As children grow up, their expression of balance is noticed, cultivated, encouraged and praised. They come to appreciate what it means to achieve balance in their personal lives, in their families, in their community and in relationship to the world at large. Success without balance is unthinkable. How very strange our world seems in comparison. Our primary measure of success is not balance but the accumulation of wealth.
  22. True freedom, then, is paradoxically made possible by submission—the hero’s submission to the whole; the submission that lets go of all the soul-baffling divisions we jealously guard, the crippling judgments we enforce, the cotton balls we hold within to stifle the resonance of our being.
  23. The true hero submits to ordinary being. He finds kinship in the ordinary; he finds nourishment there; he identifies with it. Odysseus, returning home in disguise after twenty-five years, seeks out the company of Eumaeus, the elderly swineherd who welcomes this apparent stranger, feeds him a simple meal and offers him a place to stay. Odysseus is completely at home in the old man’s rustic hut, and is grateful for the hospitality.
  24. So the truly extraordinary isn’t a transcendence of the ordinary; it is found within it.
  25. The hero’s choice is ultimately about coming back into relationship with the female principle of ‘being’. You cannot enjoy a freedom of being without submitting to being. Choosing that path is not just doable—it is necessary if we are to recover our balance in this world, learn to live intelligently in it and prove ourselves an asset to its harmony, rather than a toxic liability.
  26. The qualities of ‘paying close attention’ and ‘gentleness’ are preconditions for the process of re-sensitizing the body’s intelligence.

What I got out of it

  1. This book has laid out three core principles: 1. Wholeness is the inescapable truth of our reality. 2. Our ability to sense wholeness is our primary sense. 3. Our culture systematically disables that sense in us, leaving us out of touch with the reality of the self and the world to which it belongs.