The Fiction that Creates our Reality

Our culture’s idea of the human body has strayed so far from reality that it qualifies as a work of fiction.  The effects of that fiction, alas, couldn’t be more real.  They show up in a range of modern afflictions that habit has persuaded us to accept as normal: the undercurrent of anxiety running through our lives, our sense of disconnection, and the adversarial relationship we have with our own being, to name a few.

So what is this fiction?  Oddly it shows up most clearly where attempts to counter it are most earnest.  For example, when you are encouraged to “listen to your body” you are being tacitly advised that you are divided from it as though by a wall, and that it would be prudent once in a while to put your ear to that wall to find out what’s happening on the other side.  The metaphor also completely obscures the fact that the real ‘listener’ in this scenario is the body: your body ‘listens’ non-stop.  Every doubt and decision, every bit of confusion, every single insight you experience is heard by the body and understood and made real there.

Our fictional idea of the body also shows up in the well-intentioned warnings about the mind/body split we suffer from, and the schism between them that needs healing.  In this case, the fiction is on full display.  Simply put, there is no such thing as a body without a mind.  The phenomenon just doesn’t exist, unless you are talking about a corpse.  You can’tremove mind from body – there’d be almost nothing left.  The body has an autonomous brain in the belly that perceives, thinks, decides, acts and remembers entirely on its own.  The body also has the heart – so dense with neurological tissue that it qualifies as a third brain.  And more than that, as neuroscientist Candace Pert helped establish, neuropeptides – dubbed “the molecules of thought” – suffuse the body, carrying a stream of information among its cells.

So our idea that the mind exists independent of our body, or can somehow be separated from it, is dangerously misleading. It turns the body into a thing.  It deafens us to its intelligence.  It renders us oblivious to the ways in which the body’s intelligence registers and integrates our conscious and unconscious thinking; and being oblivious of that, we lose the skill of surrendering to its deep, wordless intelligence and coming into harmony with it.  But we lose more than that: we also lose our sense of all the ways in which the body listens to the world around us.  Oblivious to the body, we don’t hear the world.  We hear what people say about it, we hear ourselves thinking about our own thoughts about it – but we don’t hear it.  The wordless intelligence of the world simply doesn’t exist for us.  As such, we can’t harmonize with it either.  And where there is not harmony, there can only be disharmony.

There is no question that modern life pulls us into a divided state – but as long as we misunderstand the issue, and imagine the body to be a sub-intelligentthing, and feel we have to somehow steer our true intelligence to listen to and take into account and reconcile us with its uncomprehending and somewhat random sensations – as long as that is how we understand the issue, we will remain in a divided state.  The issue is not that we have divided the mind from the body – we have divided the mind from itself.  We have split it and segregated its parts, and arranged those parts in a hierarchical order that flatters the male strengths of our consciousness and debases the female strengths of our consciousness.  As long as that hierarchy maintains its hold on us, it will bar us from experiencing our wholeness.

I think that the path each of us forges through life is shaped by a tug-of-war that goes on between our desire for wholeness and our desire to retreat to the safety (or at least forgetfulness) found in various forms of seclusion.  The most powerful form of seclusion we can create for ourselves is to section off one aspect of the mind, buffer it from the whole, and make it dominant – by undoing our wholeness, that blinds us to the world’s.  In our hearts, we all yearn to undo the divisions that frustrate our lives and sap them of vitality.  We yearn for an experience of the mind’s wholeness, which we know to be a place of calm, harmony and clarity.  The world calls us towards wholeness with every breath we take.  All that stands in our way are the artifices of division we have created – and foremost among them is the idea of a body without a mind.

5 thoughts on “The Fiction that Creates our Reality”

  1. Good stuff, Philip! And the opening sentence is certainly spot on (and grabbing), and for further reasons as well, of course.

    Curiously, this article reminded me of an Iain McGilchrist YouTube video I recently watched.

    Of course, McGilchrist’s theory posits the whole thing is going on in the head-brain–, so maybe the two of you should have a talk? I’d love to sit in on that! Maybe it could be video taped and put on You-Tube?

    Like you, I feel-think there’s much more going on than just what’s in our heads. The Chinese have their “three dantiens” [upper (head), middle (heart) and lower (gut)], and many other cultures round the world also recognize these “centers,” so anthropological evidence indicates something even if our direct experience does not. (It does.)

    None of our maps or models are complete, of course. And I like the way McGilchrist is tying in cultural history in his explorations, as you also do so well. The social–of course!–is part of the Radical Whole, and too many somatics and psychology (and “spiritual”) folks/traditions sadly leave the social dimension out of their pictures.

    1. PS – In response to “Coming Home to the Body”

      I can’t help wondering if you’re aware of the writings / talks of Charles Eisenstein? —

      Charles says much the same thing about control which you do, though the two of you are different enough in your kindredness that I’m certain a conversation between the two of you would be a beautiful, nourishing thing for both of you. And the rest of us.

    2. Okay, JRiverMartin, I’m a little late replying to you (let’s call it a nine-month gestation period), and my apologies for the tardiness, but I finally made it. It took me a while to settle into McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary. What an impressive book – but what most fascinates me is that the tendencies displayed by each of the brain’s hemispheres, which he so thoroughly documents, are almost precisely the tendencies I outline in my book between the experience of living in the head, and the experience of coming to rest in the pelvic bowl, and the radically different worldviews that each reveals. As you observe, he ascribes all of our personality to the processes of the head brain, as though ‘mind’ and ‘brain’ were synonymous. Current research is beginning to show how incomplete that view is – and I do wonder what he would say about that. Many ‘psychological’ disorders can arise, it seems, from the health of the ‘second brain’ – the enteric nervous system. The Chinese Dantien model, with its three centres, accords with my own experience of living in the world. And I have a funny disinclination to demand that my experience conform to my abstract models of what it ‘should’ be.

      As for Eisenstein, he is brilliant and compassionate, and I have a very high regard for his work. Occasionally, though, he trips me up with a contention that seems to overlook our embodied reality.

      As you say, it would be a pleasure to be in a situation where I could share perspectives with these amazing men. Perhaps some day, who knows?

      All that having been said, I have to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts (which closely accord with my own), and send you my very best wishes. Warm regards …

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