Embodiment Activism, Horizontalism, and Catalyzing a Transformational Degrowth Movement

(Based on the prepared text for a short talk given at the September 2018 DegrowUS Chicago meeting. Degrowth is a global movement for voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society.  For more information about the degrowth movement, see degrowth.info and degrowus.org. Notes and references follow the text. Comments are welcome at the bottom of this page.)

  1. VISION: This is a vision of embodiment, resonance, and coherence as a basis for personal practice, social vision, and organizing. With them we can help find and heal ourselves and better open to and harmonize with each other. They can help us build community, and catalyze new cultures and movements. Ultimately, they can help us heal human civilization, transform the economy, and create a more democratic and ecological future.
  2. EMBODIMENT ACTIVISM: Embodiment is like mindfulness. Embodiment activism addresses the profound socially constructed alienation from our bodies experienced by all of us, but felt by some of us much more. Reich’s character armor, Gimbutas’s goddess archeology, Eisler’s radical revisioning of the roots of Western civilization, and van der Kolk’s work on healing the trauma of war and sexual violence are all faces of the alienation of disembodiment.
  3. COMMUNITY: Embodiment activism promotes embodiment practices, like yoga and qigong, both for ourselves and to build community. Embodied people can foster embodied communities. Embodied communities can create an embodied world. The Symbiosis organizing strategy widens its Gramsci-inspired focus on labor to include communities. Embodiment practice could be another of many community organizing strategies.
  4. SHAMANISM: Shamanism parried civilization’s disembodiment and built connection with nature. Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous helps us see how. Abram does not much address, however, our alienation form ourselves and each other. Demasio’s work on brain architecture portrays disembodiment as the experiential basis of emotional alienation. Embodiment activism is a social response.
  5. DAOISM: Daoism channels China’s shamanistic prehistory. Its embodiment practices like Qigong resisted the disembodiment of a repressive feudal society. Daoism provides clues for us today of how to recover our true selves though connection with nature. Daoism can be seen as the embodiment activism of its time. Daoists are nonviolent, but the leaders of the titanic Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184 CE were Daoist healers.
  6. QUAKER: George Fox and the 17th century English Quakers created a durable network of communities based on leaderless prayer and freedom from Anglican Church tithes that survived decades of suppression and involved more than a million at its peak. The Quaker testimonies are simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. The Daoists and Quakers both developed powerful cultures of resistance based on inner light and community.
  7. HORIZONTALISM: Horizontalist movements like the Indignados in Spain and Occupy here are widely recognized as a leading edge of activism in Western countries. These movements have shown much potential, but have largely dispersed once their moment passed. Our challenge is to create communities that will start to create and occupy spaces before the next moment arrives and retain them after it passes.
  8. RESONANCE and COHERENCE: Embodiment, greater physical awareness, enables clearer feeling. Feeling is the basis of resonance. Resonance forges connections internally, with others, and between groups. Coherence is the sensing of patterns of resonance. Coherence focuses energy. The Dao is famously empty yet inexhaustible, just like a resonant space. Maybe this is the kind of space we need.
  9. A BANNER: The Daoist principle of “doing by not doing” is connected to creating space, including political space. Less is more. We need a simple banner that can be translated into every language, culture, and belief system; a banner of simple principles. By creating space for others and growing allied communities we can work on reclaiming both our atrophied inner spaces and our parched social spaces.
  10. NEW INSTITUTIONS: Embodiment activism is happening now. The Everything Space in Montpelier, Vermont combines body work, dance, workshops, and social action. Cofounder Abbi Jaffe named embodiment activism. Darryl Aiken-Afam’s Contact & Conversation project in New York is facing racism and gentrification with conversation. The Work That Reconnects is a global spiritual activist network with embodiment values.
  11. OPENING OUR HEARTS: Can we learn to welcome difference as a degrowth movement and not fear it? We must to catalyze a transformational global movement. We must find space for everyone. Catholics and Marxists, Palestinians and Israelis. And should we find that space we will then face the challenge of resolving conflicts of all sorts.
  12. EMBODIMENT WORK: Embodiment-based practices can help to make decision, build degrowth community and resolve differences within the community. Gendlin’s focusing method could form the heart of one approach to embodiment-based dispute resolution. There’s lots of room for new approaches here.
  13. NONVIOLENCE: Can we see violence as a failure of embodiment-based dispute resolution practices and a lack of priority for restorative justice principles? Can we recognize physical and emotional violence as a main source of trauma? While we may not take a principled stand against all violence, can we approach class, race, climate change, and political conflicts on this basis?
  14. THE ROOT: At root degrowth is about overcoming addiction: the system’s addictions to profit, productivism, and power. But, also, our own addictions to consumerism, mindlessness, and disconnection. It is so scary. So far, even an weak carbon tax has proved far too challenging. Embodiment practice can help us face our fears and recover our true selves. Embodiment activism can help others do the same and catalyze a transformational movement for change.

NOTES by paragraph

VISION: Embodiment, resonance, and coherence: I identify these processes as key through my own experience. Aposhyan’s (2007) conception of natural intelligence develops important related ideas. See also Watson (2013) and Glenberg (2010).

EMBODIMENT ACTIVISM: Common embodiment practices include yoga, qigong, meditation, massage, tai chi, and various kinds of dance, including ecstatic dance.

COMMUNITY: Regarding the Symbiosis organizing strategy, see Symbiosis Research Collective paper, Colon, et al. (2017). See also Biehl and Bookchin (1997).

DAOISM: The Dao De Jing is the classic statement of Daoism, recommended translation: Red Pine (2009). Daoism in social context: Roth (1999). Daoism as embodied religion: Schipper (1993). Qigong: Cohen (1997).

QUAKER: Quaker history outlined in Brinton and Bacon (2002).

HORIZONTALISM: See Sitrin and Azzellini (2014) for a political exposition and oral history.


Abram, David (1997). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, Vintage.

Aposhyan, Susan (2007). Natural Intelligence: Body-Mind Integration and Human Development, Now Press.

Biehl, Janet and Murray Bookchin (1997). The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism, Black Rose Books.

Brinton, Howard and Mary Bacon (2002). Friends for 350 Years: The History and Beliefs of the Society of Friends Since George Fox Started the Quaker Movement, Pendle Hill Publications.

Cohen, Kenneth (1997). The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing, Ballentine Books.

Colón, John Michael, Mason Herson-Hord, Katie S. Horvath, Dayton Martindale, and Matthew Porges (2017). Community, Democracy, and Mutual Aid: Toward Dual Power and Beyond, winner of NextProject’s 2017 National Essay Competition.

Demasio, Anthony (2005). Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Penguin.

Eisler, Riane (1987). The Chalice or the Blade: Our History, Our Future, Harper Collins.

______ (1995). Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body, Harper Collins.

Gendlin, Eugene (1978). Focusing, Bantam.

Gimbutas, Marija (1997). The Kurgan Culture and the Indo-Europeanization of Europe: Selected Articles from 1952 to 1993, Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph.

Glenberg, Arthur M. (2010). Embodiment as a unifying perspective for psychology, WIREs Cognitive Science, July/August 2010, v. 1, n. 4.

Red Pine (2009). Lao-Tzu’s Taoteching, Copper Canyon Press.

Reich, Wilhelm (1980). The Mass Psychology of Fascism, V. R. Carfango, trans., Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Roth, Harold D. (1999). Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism, Columbia University Press.

Schipper, Kristofer (1993): The Taoist Body, Karen C. Duval, trans., University of California Press.

Sitrin, Marina and Dario Azzellini (2014). They Can’t Represent Us! Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy, Verso.

Van der Kolk, Bessel (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Penguin.

Watson, Guy (2013). The Resonance of Emptiness: A Buddhist Inspiration for Contemporary Psychotherapy, Routledge, especially pp. 196, 201, 253.

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