When the publicist for Phillip Shepherd’s New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century contacted me and asked if I was interested in reviewing a copy of the book, I said “sure, it sounds very interesting” or something along those lines. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The premise certainly did sound interesting (I never accept books that don’t appeal to me on some level), but I was a little worried that I was getting another “do this, do that and life will be great!” self-help book. Those who know me are well aware that I don’t do “self-help.” Actually, I attempted it once, on my other blog as part of a project. I was going to read one self-help book a week and put it into practice. I called it the Pretty Nameles Self Helpless Project or something cutesy like that. I even set up a separate blog for it! It lasted all of a week.
“New Self, New World” is NOT a self-help book, although I’m sure bookstores across the country will categorize it as such. Actually, it is more of an anti-self, or perhaps, whole-self help book. Shepherd challenges everything society tells us we should believe about ourselves, starting with the concept of the mind being the sole control center of the human body. Through 400+ pages (not including the lengthy appendix and index), he uses anthropology, mythology and science to tear apart the foundations of the belief that the mind is the self. He shows us how so many different systems within the body make up who we are, including the heart, the immune system, and of course, our DNA. If all these bits and pieces make up our whole self, then why do we allow the brain to dictate every move we make (both literally and figuratively)? Shepherd explains that the brain is for “doing,” while the whole body is for “being,” and provides the us with numerous ways to shut out the brain’s constant chatter to really get down to who we truly are. Each section ends with a whole-body exercise. 12 in all, to help break free of the mind’s tyrannical hold over the body and help readers learn to live in the present moment. The fact that Shepherd achieves this imparting of radical life-lessons without ever coming across as preachy or as a know-it-all is astonishing in itself. Shepherd doesn’t seek to define you or tell you how to live, he doesn’t say his way is the only way, quite the opposite actually. He encourages you to stop trying to define yourself according to other’s opinions, to stop trying to DEFINE yourself period and rather just BE yourself.
Don’t let the thickness of this tome turn you off, Shepherd writes eloquently, flowing from one idea to the next without losing readers to rambling thought-streams (something I clearly could take lessons in). Shepherd wrote the book over a period of six years, but explains in his introduction that he has been jotting down notes most of his life when inspiration struck. After leaving Canada at age 18, he traveled to Europe, bought a bike, and cycled throughout Europe, India and the Middle East before flying to Japan, where he studied Noh theater. He has led a rich life that allowed him to explore a myriad of cultures and traditions.
Bottom Line- I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong, to anyone looking to “be” rather than “do,” and to anyone who just needs a little clarity when the world around them seems to be so cluttered with opinions, information and demands. It’s long, and I admit I skimmed a few sections once I got the gist, but I was able to digest it fairly quickly.