Amnon Buchbinder’s interview with Philip Shepherd [“Out of Our Heads,” April 2013] changed me in important ways. I carried the issue around with me this past week and read parts of it to anyone who would listen. Shepherd’s story of the Polynesian sailors feeling the waves — along with the distant islands’ effects on those waves — caused me to think about what it might mean to feel the waves of my own body. His words brought a visceral response in me that continues to reverberate.
Amnon Buchbinder’s interview with Philip Shepherd was my introduction to the idea that we have a second brain in the gut. I appreciate the way Shepherd traces the historical and cultural events that led us to believe that the head is the center of all reasoning, thus abandoning the past acceptance of the belly as the hub of the self.
The interview validates notions I have harbored since childhood about gut-level reactions to experiences. The connection between humankind and earth, as illustrated by the Polynesian sailors’ navigational techniques, is mind-blowing. Colonial Europeans’ dismissal of those navigational arts as tribal hocus-pocus is indicative of the myopic view that has guided exploration in every age. Eventually the explorers are forced to accept indigenous experiences as valid.
Having researched and written on body-centered consciousness for decades, I’m grateful for the introduction to Philip Shepherd’s work.
Shepherd describes the rage he felt as a teenager, sensing he was on the verge of disappearing into the unreality of conventional Western culture. My work with women regarding self-esteem and body image tells me that a similar rage lies at the root of obsessive dieting, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders. We defend against feeling that rage by cutting ourselves off from body and belly awareness.
An interview cannot capture Shepherd’s take on everything, of course. But, having become familiar with the scope of his work, I’d like to point out two places where his perspective feels abridged.
The interview focuses on Joseph Campbell’s model of the hero’s journey of “self-achieved submission” as the way to come home to ourselves and experience unity. Shepherd’s writings, however, suggest that submission is not the endpoint of our journey but rather a step toward the “sacred marriage” of masculine and feminine that takes place energetically within our body’s center.
The discussion of the enteric nervous system, or “brain in our belly,” also comes across as a simplification of Shepherd’s thinking. My vote for our “center of being” goes to the hara — the Japanese term for the nexus of life energy sheltered within our belly. True, it’s probably easier to interest our cranial brains in the scientific belly brain than in the nonmaterial hara. Nevertheless, I say the subtitle for the Shepherd interview should have been “The God in Our Belly.”
Bravo to The Sun for featuring Philip Shepherd’s thoughts about the body’s perspective. In the middle of the interview he says, “We don’t know how to bring those perspectives back home so they can be integrated” with the views of the head. I think I know how.
To bring the head and body together, we need a slower relationship with time. We need to take time to think, time to ponder, time to walk alone and let new ideas sink in toward the belly. It could be done, but we would need to make it part of our daily schedule. Perhaps we could give ourselves one hour each day. If not that, then one day a week. Refuse to shop on Sunday. Take the time to let body and mind come together.
We know that the earth is our teacher, if we will let her teach us. We can become integrated by walking on unpaved ground, by swimming, by sitting on the soil or the grass or a rock and just feeling where we are. Let the movement of the wind, the migration patterns of the birds, the playful red squirrel teach us.
I’m kind of disappointed that the photo of Philip Shepherd is a head shot.
A couple of years ago I dropped my subscription to The Sun because I was planning to spend several months living in France, and I felt it would be difficult to arrange for the magazine to be sent there.
A few weeks ago I resubscribed. (It’s the only publication I’ve resubscribed to since my return.) My first issue [April 2013] arrived a couple of days ago. The profound interview with Philip Shepherd confirmed for me why I read your magazine. And now that you have a digital edition, I won’t ever need to miss an issue when I spend time overseas.
It was refreshing to see the beautiful male body celebrated on the cover of your April 2013 issue. In a society where men are rarely viewed as beautiful, I am glad my teenage son got to see the male form presented as a work of art.
The cover of the April 2013 issue struck a sour note with me. The content of the interview that inspired it did not improve my impression. Furthermore, it was in poor taste to scatter flesh photos throughout the magazine to illustrate clearly nonrelated pieces.
Reading Sy Safransky’s April 2013 Notebook page was both a spiritual and an intellectual experience for me. The last paragraph had me tearing up at one moment and laughing out loud the next.
If Safransky ever thinks that his Notebook pages are of small importance compared with the book he’s writing or his personal to-do list, please convey to him that this devoted reader finds his columns deeply moving and inspiring. He is at the top of his game, and I don’t doubt that getting up at 5 AM to write keeps him open to the muse that brings his writing to this level.
Regarding S. Reid Warren III’s letter to the editor bemoaning the lack of a U.S. Peace Department [Correspondence, April 2013]: perhaps he forgot about the Peace Corps, which is now past its fiftieth year. On January 1, 1963, forty-two Peace Corps volunteers left LaGuardia Airport bound for the African nation of Nyasaland (now Malawi) to teach, and I was among them. Since then thousands of volunteers have served and enriched their lives and the lives of people in their communities. To us it was peace in action, and it continues to be.
At the end of her essay “Things” [March 2013] L.K. Gornick lumps protecting gopher tortoises, mountaintops, egrets, aquifers, coral, and three-toed sloths in with saving such material possessions as family china and wedding dresses. These are opposites! The more energy and resources we use in manufacturing, transporting, maintaining, and storing things like fine china, fancy furniture, and expensive clothes, the less we will have of the habitats and ecosystems that support other species and, ultimately, us. Which would you rather your children and grandchildren inherit: a world that still contains wild polar bears, elephants, and tigers, or a storage unit full of old dishes and clothes?
L.K. Gornick responds:
In the last section of my essay I explicitly state that I am “appalled” at the resources we spend on the mundane objects of daily living. Of course I’d rather my grandchildren inherit a world with elephants and tigers than a crate of my mother-in-law’s old china. The natural world and the man-made world, however, are not complete opposites. They share a vulnerability to change, through entropy as well as by human malfeasance. In the essay, I wonder if there is an “impossible paradox” whereby we must simultaneously accept impermanence while cultivating an attitude of cherishing — nature, our man-made wonders, and yes, too, the objects that signify our personal histories.
My mother introduced me to The Sun’s Readers Write section when I was eleven. Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate the entire magazine, especially the interviews.
There are three in particular that I’ve gone back to reread multiple times: the October 2003 interview with Noam Chomsky [“Language of Mass Deception”]; the February 2004 interview with Vandana Shiva [“Biting the Hand That Feeds”]; and the October 2012 interview with Joel Salatin [“Sowing Dissent”].
In March I added a fourth to that list: Greg King’s incredible interview with S. Brian Willson, “We Are Not Worth More, They Are Not Worth Less.”
Without The Sun, who knows how stunted my political, social, and global awareness would be.
Your brochure advertised “radical intimacy.” Well, you’re too radical for me. Your magazine has some good stories, but there’s too much liberal blather, especially in Sy Safransky’s Notebook. There are dozens of magazines out there that don’t demean conservatives and their values. I’ll spend my money elsewhere.
I’ve no idea what prompted me to read the brochure I got in the mail from you. Maybe it was the artwork. And it wasn’t until I’d received several mailings with great writing in them that I ordered a subscription. Now I’m not only a fan of your magazine but a promoter. The Sun offers the finest writing of its type I have ever encountered. I devour it with the same enthusiasm I used to bring to eating my mother’s fudge alone in the closet.