The single greatest harm done by the story our culture tells comes from the divisions it enforces within each of us. We are assured in a million ways that the sensational intelligence of the body is not really worth paying attention to. And we find, indeed, that the more unmindful we become of our bodies, the more they appear to be mindless. And so we are persuaded to separate from the body and live in the head, assured by a culture that passes off this pathological dissociation as completely normal, natural and unavoidable. Once we are caught in the prison of our craniums, we are unable to join the world–though our hearts yearn to do so. Instead of joining it, we think about it, and analyze it, and judge it. That’s just how we are, and it’s what we imagine the normal human state to be.
The description of ‘normal’ we have been raised on may be as hard to detect as a chameleon in a landscape, but it is always there exerting its influence–and its effect can be felt in a sense of frustration or lack in our lives as we try to live a story that is at odds with reality. When we attempt to recover peace in our lives, our efforts more often resemble anxiety management than any kind of real peace. Being estranged from our bodies, we feel victimized by them–and so when they hurt or fall sick, we feel fear or annoyance or betrayal; and when we exert them or look in the mirror, we may feel guilt or vanity or anger about the shape they are in. And though we accept the fact of our essential solitude, we cannot bear the emptiness of our own company. To alleviate it, we surround ourselves with distractions: chat rooms, telephones, computer games, shopping, Web browsing, Twittering, and of course popular entertainment that wears meaning on its sleeve as an assurance to us all. We generally have neither the time nor the attention span for art that draws us into the unnamable ambiguities of life itself. When we try to improve our situation, we look about for answers that will help us connect and feel better about ourselves–yet none of the self-help prescriptions seems to work for very long. Our ability to escape that divided state is hampered by our difficulty in understanding that what holds us back are the very things we accept as the normal givens of the world.
As we relate to the body, so we relate to the world.
Philip Shepherd (excerpted from New Self, New World, Recovering our Senses in the Twenty-first Century)