The Embodied Metatribe: Yellow Rose, Green Thorn.

The Embodied Metatribe: Yellow Rose, Green Thorn.

(This is a blog developing some of the themes I outlined in a workshop held in the Integral European Conference in May 2021. It assumes some reasonable knowledge of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory so those of you who know nothing about Ken Wilber’s work may want to give this one a miss.) 

  1. Introducing Embodiment

The Embodiment Conference, an online event created and co-ordinated by Mark Walsh, attracted 250k viewers and had 1k presenters. This marked it as a significant evolutionary event which drew together somatic therapists, bodyworkers, neotantrikas, neoshamen, yoga teachers, consent practitioners, sex-positive workers, relationship therapists etc. all united under the umbrella of this thing called Embodiment. 

The Embodiment Conference consisted of workshops and discussions on body psychotherapy, consent, relationships, intimacy, personal sovereignty, transformational coaching, modern tantra, cultivation and harnessing of sexual energy. Interestingly, if you look at Facebook groups run on these themes, you find the same individuals contributing across most if not all of these groups. There’s a rich cross-fertilisation of knowledge arising as a result. As a transformational coach, psychotherapist, bodyworker, neo-tantrika and yoga teacher with interests in many of these fields, I get a strong sense of many tribes braiding together into what I refer to as the Embodied Metatribe (henceforth EM for brevity).

I find that these people in the EM are, for the most part clear-minded, well-intentioned, in tune with their bodies, consentful, fearsomely well-read, boundaried, confident, assertive and respectful and generally happy. They live and work in nearly every nation. 

There’s a movement birthing here. There’s no branding, no declaration of principles: like the Renaissance and the early 20th century postmodern movements, there’s something happening which is developing organically from a number of different sources and it’s appealing to the heart-minds of an increasing number of individuals. Workshops on the themes of conscious sexuality, conscious relating, neo-tantra, somatic consent etc. have lengthy waiting lists. The success of the Embodied Conference is emblematic of this. 

Note that we think of such phenomena as movements…the very word shows how embodied, spatial thinking, is engrained into our mindset. 

I think this movement is the groundswell of a post-postmodern second-tier emergence. Whereas the Integral and Metamodern movements are ‘top-down’ promotors of ongoing Eros, beginning with theory and condensing evolutionary activity from the vapour of academia,  the EM movement tends towards having an identity as  a ‘bottom-up’ movement in that it attracts a lot of people who best learn through practice. 

 In this blog, I am going to explain why I believe that EM is a vanguard of second-tier emergence by referring to KW’s notions of the centaur, and mapping the personal qualities which this movement facilitates onto the attributes Ken accredits to the centaur. The centaur doesn’t figure much in KWs integral work, though he mentions the term briefly in all of his integral books. It comes from his earlier works which mapped the UL quadrant. We will examine this more later. 

 2. Defining embodiment.

Here is a definition of embodiment in two closely-related ways. The first definition is that embodiment is

the recognition/awareness that we inhabit a physical body. This includes the three modalities of interception, exteroception and proprioception. 

Exteroception is the class of sensations which encompass the five senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Interception refers to your internal visceral experience. You have brain cells in your heart, gut, lungs, skin and connective tissue. The gut, for example, has more than 100 billion nerve cells within it more than the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system. These are the five internal senses of our social/emotional sense organs.

Proprioception tells us where our body is in space and anchors us in balance. It gets the glass to your lips and the fork tines in your mouth. 

(We could add neuroception to this: the capacity to sense danger, though this is a compound of exteroceptive and interoceptive sensing.)

In other words, embodiment is an awareness which uses the entire somatosensory nervous system. 

This is the sense in which embodiment facilitator, author, coach popularist and entrepreneur Mark Walsh approaches embodiment. Here are some definitions he gives in his eponymously-titled book:

  • How we are 
  • The manner of our inter-relational being 
  •  The subjective aspect of the body 
  • An ontological approach to the body 
  • The body as “I” not “it” 
  • A type of intelligence 
  • A view of the body as more than meat, more than a thing, and more than just a “brain taxi”
  •  The overall umbrella term for body-mind disciplines such as martial arts, yoga, bodywork, improvisation and conscious dance

Walsh, Mark. Embodiment – Moving Beyond Mindfulness (pp. 21-22). Unicorn Slayer Press. 

However, there is a second though not unrelated definition of embodiment which places greater emphasis on the propensity for walk-talking according to one or a number of principles. For example, when we say “I embody truth and reason’, I am referring to the fact that my thoughts, words and deeds are in alignment with this principle. And you would see this in my body posture: when I stand up (note the spatial term) for what I believe, you see me with a straight back, steady gaze, open chest, speaking my truth. 

A basic premise of cognitive behaviour therapy is that if you change your mindset, you can change behaviour, which is regulated by the posture of the body. And the reverse is true: change the way your body is deployed in space this changes your mindset. And the body never, cannot, lie. Hence cutting-edge psychotherapy, coaching and leadership work is underpinned by embodiment practice. Learn to fully inhabit your body, learn to adjust so that you stand sit and move with confidence – and you will be confident, you will embody confidence. 

  • Scope of the Embodiment Metatribe

Below is a reproduction of Mark Walsh’s graphic indicating the major strands of the embodiment movement. 

 4. Ken Wilber and the Centaur

Ken Wilber (henceforth KW) originally wrote that the door to the transpersonal was through mind/body integration, which is, essentially, another way of referring to embodiment as I define it above.

He used the term ‘Centaur’ to refer to the level of consciousness lying between the personal and transpersonal levels of development. A Centaur is a mythological being with an animal body but a human mind with both existing in harmony. He differentiates between preverbal, typhonic (another way of referring to Fulcrum 2) body sensory awareness and centauric experiential awareness which includes mental reflection. You can ask a Centaur questions like ‘what kind of sensation do you have in your gut right now?’ and get an articulate response whereas the child feels their gut without such powers of descriptive articulation. 

He was, in Transformations of Consciousness (1986) and The Atman Project (1996)  writing in a more academic style which makes his overall treatment of the Centaur more difficult to grok than, say, the movement from green into turquoise in the Integral Spiral Dynamic system. 

Note also that KW had read extensively in literature which was cutting edge at the time of the publication of the second edition of the Atman Project but which has been superseded by 24 years worth of groundbreaking research in the field of neuroscience and the many mind-body disciplines which have assimilated this new learning.  

In Integral Psychology, (1994) KW says little about centaur other than it is a ‘more truly integrated, autonomous self….where human mind and animal body are harmoniously one’. He places Centaur at F-6 as in pre-integral theory but also places it in the Integral Spiral Dynamics system at Turquoise. 

Turquoise: gateway to the transpersonal in which feeling is united with knowing, life is lived from within (not based on external rules) and the worldview one lives as is described as a Universal holistic system. 

5. The qualities of the Centaur.

I decided to look at what Ken said about the Centaur and see what I could come up with if I mapped the characteristics of the Centaur onto the characteristics of the Embodied Metatribe. I came up with five attributes worthy of consideration. 

  • 1. The Centaur is integrated.

‘..the body, the persona, the shadow, the ego – all can be brought into a higher-order integration’ (Ken Wilber, The Atman Project)

Body, shadow and ego are brought into a higher-level integration. This is because all three aspects of the self have, at this stage, become objects in awareness and the emerging self holds all three in a harmonious whole. What is an object of awareness is something we can work/play with. As John Hawken says: what we play with doesn’t control us. 

Therefore, instead of repressing feelings into the shadow, the embodied approach is to bring them into full awareness, tolerate them and build resilience. Shadow integration is a matter of degree and for many may be seen as a work in progress. The ‘higher-level integration’ should therefore not be taken as an absolute attainment. It’s always work in progress.

Depending on the degree of trauma suffered in childhood or adulthood, one will be more likely to view aspects of the world – or the world itself – as a threat than a more trauma-free, attuned neuroceptive faculty which will protect us whilst letting us know that, where the world is safe, we can relax and engage our human curiosity and playfulness in discovering its wonders. 

Most members of the Embodied Metatribe engage in three major forms of body and shadow reclamation work:

All three methods help train individuals to become more consciously interoceptive and proprioceptive. When we clear our trauma stories out of our system we have a more realistic appraisal of what constitutes a threat and what does not. 

In addition to shadow energy integration work, EM members will typically engage in disciplines designed to enhance body awareness: yoga, tai chi, qi qong, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais etc. 

Integration begets clarity, then. we are also more likely to see the world from the ‘inside-out’ rather than the ‘outside-in’ when we have developed embodiment. Which means that we can ‘feel-into’ what is good for us, develop healthy boundaries, mean our yes and no and feel and act according to the principles of consent. The consent practices of Betty Martin and Matt Schwenteck are widely adopted by sombutnall members of the Embodied Metatribe and used in Conscious Relating/Conscious Relationship practices which seek intimacy and transparency in their relating.  

  • 2. The Centaur’s body is an object in awareness.

‘…the centaur, the integrated self above and prior to body, mind, persona and shadow..embracing…all of them as experiences’

(Ken Wilber, ibid.)

Ego, body and shadow are now objects of perception at the Centaur level.  KW views all three as ‘constructs’,  an agglomeration of interoceptive and exteroceptive sensations, visitors to the atrium of consciousness just as passing thoughts are: the sensation of my gut constricting with hunger or my heart throbbing with joy.  When I don’t exclusively identify with my body sensations, I am free to explore what I can do with my body, as I get free from the generations-old conditioning that my body must be denied. 

So this leaves me shamelessly free to explore the pleasures of the body. For example:

Note that with all these practices, we are moving away from a ‘victim’ mentality of automatic reactivity towards our environment and towards a position of ‘sovereignty’ where we choose our response to what is going on in any given moment. 

Again: use of good posture, breathing and deportment will generate psychophysiological coherence and prepare you for any situation with the slings and arrows lie throws at us in them. Combined with visualising yourself as smart, powerful and competent, embodied self-awareness embody confidence and help you get the results you want to achieve in life. You move and act with intrinsic, embodied strength. 

  • 3. The Centaur enjoys unleashed potential.

‘Intentionality is the spontaneous will of the bodymind centaur and vision-image or high-phantasy’ is its language’

 (Ken Wilber, ibid.) 

The energy involved in repressing shadow, somatic sensations, and fighting sub-personalities is now unleashed so that one overflows with potential-enhancing life force, so the Centaur is linked to what Maslow referred to as Self-actualisation. 

Maslow wrote that the need to self-actualise arose from a surplus of energy, a desire to move beyond egocentric needs: by contrast, the lower needs of food, security, belonging etc. arose out of deficit and the need was to acquire the needed thing rather than to give out to the world in some way.  

Thus, the centaur is also linked to will and freedom: the will to self-actualise and the freedom from one’s conditioning. KW’s sources regarding centaur are all basically existential, so in this context, terms such as autonomy, will, intentionality, freedom, authenticity and responsibility abound in existential literature, which is, essentially, describing the qualities inherent within Centaurdom. 

In other words, Centaurs are more dharmically-attuned and an increasing number of Embodied Metatribe members feel a calling towards actualising a world centric vision. This vision is what KW refers to as a ‘high-phantasy’ process, distinguishing it from the ‘low-phantasy’ process of the infant who seeks to gratify egocentric desires through grandiose fantasies. 

  • 4. The Centaur experiences life in the here-and-now. 

‘The infantile bodyego can only see the present; the centaur can see all time from the present.’

(Ken Wilber, ibid)

As we have seen, Centaurs are more likely to perceive things as they are, unmediated by personal or cultural filters. Whereas a child is exclusively identified with its body in F-1 and F-2 before the development of the representational mind, the Centaur can choose to inhabit the body in the here-and-now like a child but can also choose to organise what they understand into useful language-based stories which confer meaning. A child can only express the ache in its gut by crying whilst the Centaur can report what is going on in words. 

Thus, Centaurs can use what Dr Alan Fogel refers to as both Conceptual and Embodied Self-Awareness.  Fogel maintains that Embodied Self-Awareness mitigates against an over-use of Conceptual Self-Awareness which can disembody us so that we can easily stray into the past and the future and lose connection with the body in the here and now. A disembodied mind is distractible, prone to fantasies and also liable to superimpose its own values and judgements on all it perceives, strengthening confirmation bias and potentially isolating us from others. 

Centaurs can physically empathise with others more readily than the unembodied through the developed ability to listen to the workings of their mirror neurons, which fire off when we see somebody else move. They connect to the insula, part of the brain which is involved in self-awareness, and also to the network of motor neurons throughout the body. So Centaurs use their whole body to make sense of other people: they tell you about action and emotion when it is expressed through the body of another person. I get to know how I would feel if I were moving in the same way as another. So on a dance floor, a Centaur can read the body of an approaching partner and move accordingly…many Centaurs are great dancers!

From here, it’s a short step to conscious relating and Centaurs are very into Conscious relating, especially through the body. Organistions like Buster Radvik and Rachel Rickards’ Embodied Intimacy which explores this theme in detail are growing in popularity.    

  • 5. Centaurs are playfully spontaneous.

‘…the mature centaur evidences a transverbal, transcontrol, transinhibition freedom’.

(Ken Wilber, ibid.)

Centaurs are more spontaneous and superficially resemble the impulse-following pre-personal child. However, the Centaur is, by contrast, transgenic: they have progressed beyond the rigid controls of the ego. This is the transgressiveness of the Tantrika: not a childish naughtiness or rebelliousness but the ‘transinhibitive freedom’ described by KW in the quote above.. 

As a result, Centaurs tend to be curious, playful and full of humour and zest for life. Metatribe members enjoy flexing these attributes in improvisational comedy, expressive dance and ritual theatre. 

6. The (Mean) Green Thorns on the Yellow Rose.

If you agree with me that the Embodied Megatribe forms a fuzzy nucleus of a second-tier movement in its very early stages, we need to examine the Green thorns on the stem of this Yellow/Turquoise flower. There’s still a good deal of Green pathology in the movement.

So the Mean Green Meme is the result of Green pluralistic relativism infected with Red narcissism. This gives rise to an array of egocentrically-motivated behaviours masquerading as socio- or world-centric concerns. 

Principally, these show up in the Embodied Metatribe as:

Hypersensitivity. Green proto-Centaurs undergo somatically-sensitising embodiment training without corresponding resilience and so report being traumatised in their body over somebody else confronting or ignoring their requests. Result: they adopt the role of oppressed victim.

Prolonged immersion in victimhood often segues into the inability to let go of their identity as a trauma survivor so that they become the Brave Victim who never fully resolves their traumatised history and recounts their struggles incessantly on social media platforms as raw/brave/vulnerable survivors which gets them lots of attention and support. This gratifies their narcissism but does nothing to help them evolve. They frequently out and shame their ‘oppressors’ in the process. 

(Please note that I am not referring to every person who describes themselves as a traumatised victim, only those who have an inability to let go of their identity as such. And this is not condemnation but a respectful and neutral description designed to assist in locating and eradicating such obstacles to individual and collective growth.)

Hedonism. Through sensitising the body and increasing its capacity for pleasure, there is a danger of addiction to pleasure. Bliss becomes a drug isolating the practitioner from the world with its wicked problems. 

Denial of the significance of intellect. This is common, particularly amongst neotantrikas who dissociate from the thinking self just as we may once have dissociated from the body in earlier times. Thus the term ‘that’s all just head stuff’ may be frequently heard if one offers academic garnish with the neotantrik workshop meal.  This is a hangover from early Green which, when pulling away from Orange rationalism, over-emphasises the heart and emotions. 

Note then that Ascending paths may have spiritual bypass as a shadow, an escape from the lived life, the lebsenweldt. When we engage in life in an embodied manner and do not negate the body, our Ascendance is much more integral in scope because it forms the basis of a nondual practice. And nonduality is the preference of many members of the Embodied Megatribe, hence the popularity of teachers like Jeff Foster and Rupert Spira. The influence of Nondual Shiva Tantra, currently spearheaded by Christopher Hareesh Wallis, is just beginning to make itself felt.  

I’ll stop writing at this point although there is much more that can be said on the topic. Feel free to contact me if you seek more information, wish to work with me in these areas, and/or would like to subscribe to my newsletter.  

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