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Gut Brain & Axial Consciousness

April 13, 2013


The following is from the article “Coming Home to the Body” by Philip Shepherd, whose book New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century is one of my favorite all time works:

“One of the primary messages of our culture’s story is that it is normal and even unavoidable to live in our heads. Neurology (and who can doubt such an advanced science?) assures us that the self is pretty much contained in the brain – and I’m sure, incidentally, that most neurologists do clearly feel their self contained in their craniums. What neurologists rarely mention, and tacitly dismiss, is that there is a second, independent, self-sufficient brain in the belly that perceives, remembers, decides and acts. We have known about that second brain for over a hundred years, but our culture’s headstrong story has no place for that aspect of our physiology – so although it is accepted by medical science, it is pretty much ignored by everyone.


Other cultures recognize and celebrate the thinking in the belly as the seat of our profoundest truths – cultures as diverse as the Japanese, the Incas, North American Aboriginals and the Chinese. In fact, the belly is where European cultures experienced their thinking some 10,000 years ago – but as those ancient cultures moved from female-centered values that celebrated the Goddess to male-centered values that celebrated the God, the center of our thinking began to drift up from the belly, so that by the time Homer was writing, our thinking was experienced in the chest (the word Homer used for ‘mind’ was phren, and it also meant ‘diaphragm’), and it had arrived in the head by Plato’s day

Living in the head enables us to withdraw from all the messy sensations of the world around us and gain clear perspectives on it so that we can make good choices, or ‘decisions’ – decisions that are, ipso facto, largely uninformed by the messy sensations of the world. Furthermore, from the sensation-deprived prospect of the head, the world appears to be largely dead and controllable, reducible to subatomic particles obeying the laws of physics…

… The head is where we can consciously think. So highly do we value our faculty of reason that we overlook its fundamental impotence: wondrous as that faculty is, you cannot reason your way into the present. If you are not present, you will not be informed by the present – and then your ‘decisions’ will be made according to your second-hand ideas about the present, oblivious of its song and blind to its deeper harmony. The division of the self, then – which our culture’s story presents as normal and inevitable – means our actions will be divided from and deaf to the world’s harmony. There is an enduring principle at work here: as we relate to the body, so we relate to the world. It cannot be otherwise…

If the brain in the head is where we can consciously think, the brain in the belly – which is associated with the female aspect of our consciousness – is where we can consciously ‘be’. Its genius brings us into relationship with all things, and integrates the many into a felt whole. As a culture, we have pretty much lost the ability to just ‘be’ – we are devotedly addicted to doing, doing, doing. Birthing a new self doesn’t ask us to abandon the male and return to the female – it asks us to honor both and unite their strengths, recognizing at the same time that ‘home’ for the new-born self will not be in the head, but in the belly: awake to the mindful present, guided by its subtle whisperings, working in harmony with it.

Our true consciousness, the consciousness into which humanity is evolving, does not lie in either the pole of the head or the pole of the belly. Our true consciousness is a field sustained by the axis that runs between those poles – as the poles of a bar magnet sustain a magnetic field around it. Before we can grow into an axial consciousness, though, we have to reclaim what we abandoned so long ago: the female genius of being, which resides in the belly.”

brain-gut_axis (2)


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One Comment
  1. I really love your work. Where can I find your current work?

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