The Embodiment Conference and Beyond: A Trauma-Aware Call to Healing [Guest Post]
by Dr. Jess Glenny, Rev. Jude Mills, Dr. Theo Wildcroft
We are a coalition of elders in our communities of practice, who identify as neurodivergent and/or as survivors of trauma. We call on you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – to bear witness, to take personal and collective responsibility, and to commit to moving forward for the healing of ourselves, our communities, and those who have been damaged by the misuse of power; by individuals, structures, and institutions that claim to be promoting wellness. We also ask that this healing extends to those who have misused their power, for without the healing of all, there is no healing. This is a heartfelt prayer, invocation and invitation to you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – to ask some difficult questions, and to move towards radical personal and collective change.
We have, in recent weeks, been bearing witness to the public ‘call-out’ of Mark Walsh and The Embodiment Conference, in the wake of much debated statements made by Mark on social media, that have been widely condemned as offensive.
We understand and wholeheartedly support the ensuing reaction of hurt, anger and desire for reparation that is being expressed in online spaces. However, we collectively fear that the public, social-media-fuelled fervour that builds up around these calls to action sometimes echoes the violence of the behaviours that we are collectively denouncing, and actually further harms those who have been harmed.
As people who identify as neurodivergent and/or as survivors of trauma, we simply cannot safely engage with this level of volatility. We experience this as a form of ableism that has repeatedly excluded us from spaces like The Embodiment Conference, and also from the online spaces where such events are debated and discussed.
Some of us have seen warning signs and refused any involvement with Mark Walsh from the outset. Others have had varying levels of professional and personal involvement and have subsequently decided to remove our support and to cut off our ties and involvement with him and his work, having experienced professional and personal emotional and psychological harm by our involvement.
Our experience predates but resonates with all of what has been currently reported on Walsh’s online behaviour. As survivors of trauma, and as neurodivergent practitioners, we knew years ago that we were unwelcome in Walsh’s space, and that the commodification of ‘embodiment’ it represents was built, in part, on that exclusion, and on the denial of our lived experience. We fully acknowledge the intersectional nature of such experiences, but equally acknowledge that we can only legitimately speak to our own experiences.
We are the ones who either were never invited to join the conference, or whose consciences would not allow us to sign up. In the wake of the online call to action, some of us with direct experience of Mark Walsh, have even been asked: why didn’t we warn people, and how are we going to help repair the damage? We have been asked to take ‘accountability’. The fact is, some of us did warn you, and you didn’t listen. Others who had relevant information to share weren’t consulted or even considered as relevant.
To be clear, we have not been silent; we have been silenced.
What we feel needs to be said however, is that this is not just about one person and one event. These same dynamics have been experienced by many of us, in many organisational contexts. Mark Walsh and his behaviours are symptoms of deeper cultural and systemic issues that are culturally normalised. These are the issues that need to be addressed for us to move towards healing of a situation that will, otherwise, continue to repeat . The fact is, we’re not sure that you want to repair anything that we are really invested in.
- That the structures and systems that promote, encourage and support charismatic leadership in the wellness/embodiment ‘industry’ are essentially damaging. Such leadership is not conducive to communities of collective responsibility. We call for a healthy scrutiny of such leadership, and of anyone actively seeking such a position. But more than that, we suggest that communities based on this kind of leadership model, are best avoided.
- That given what we intuitively know, and given research (among other issues) of: intergenerational, individual and collective trauma and harm; historical, structural and systemic forms of oppression; countertransference; attachment dynamics; interpersonal neurobiology; addiction and cult psychology; we appreciate that work at the intersection of soma, psyche and spirit may invoke particular risks and that such non-collaborative models may harm all, especially participants.
- That movements such as The Embodiment Conference are based on large-scale market principles that are, we feel, in direct opposition to the practices that they claim to promote.
- That the fact that such leaders are often white, male and heteronormative further entrenches us in shoring up the systems of power and abuse that many of us claim to denounce.
- That the existence of an ‘industry’ that seeks to commodify and profit from wellness and embodied practices by the engagement in large scale monetised events such as The Embodiment Conference, are essentially damaging to our practices and our communities. They create financial success and visibility only for those few who have already succeeded in creating a popular platform whilst doing so supported by the free labour of others. This echoes the worst elements of our economic systems and is damaging and toxic. From experience, we do not accept that ‘exposure’ actually works in practice, nor is it a legitimate form of remuneration.
- It has been pointed out elsewhere, but we feel it is important to reiterate, that many of the practices promoted in such events have their origins in indigenous sacred and ritual practice, and that the ownership and commodification of these practices by Western practitioners is at best problematic. Such commodification which often seeks to minimise, and in many cases deny, the cultural origins of a practice, may be felt as cultural violence.
- That such practices also seek to systematise and commodify the hard-won wisdom of neurodivergent people and of survivors of violence, and sell it back to us in a packaged format.
- That any event which seeks to merely platform marginalised voices rather than centre them with programming influence and choice, echoes and further promotes the colonial violence inherent in Western systems of power.
The flow of power is clear to us:
- Embodied wisdom accumulates in communities of care, formed by and held by survivors of violence, by people of colour, by queer people, by neurodivergent and disabled people (these communities often overlap, but have distinct identities that it is important to honour)
- Such wisdom accumulates not only in spite of, but in direct resistance to, our mistreatment at the hands of both medical and ‘wellness’ industries.
- Such wisdom allows us, in many cases, to recognise problematic tendencies in ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ cultures. And for many of us, the triggering that results means that engaging in those cultures can itself be a form of violence.
- Our warnings about such tendencies not only go unrecognised, ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ cultures continue to funnel power and prestige into these dynamics, enabling dominant and predatory figures to extract our wisdom, to package it and sell it in ways that are actively harmful to us, and to others.
- When the behaviours of charismatic individuals become too problematic to ignore, you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – look to us to step into those same arenas and either make peace with our aggressors or fight them on their terms, in arenas and on platforms that you gave them, in both cases in order to ‘save’ spaces that have never accommodated us.
We speak directly to you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – and say:
- As survivors and neurodivergent people in particular, we have always known that you see us as broken, as childlike, as in need of your assistance.
- We must tell you in the strongest terms possible: Our healing, our resistance, has continually been extracted, systematised, corrupted and then sold back to us. This needs to stop.
- We put it to you that our inability to navigate your platforms, to rise to prominence in your arenas, is borne of our inability to tolerate your hypocrisy, and our incomprehension of your desire to be at the top of, or indeed anywhere within the structure of, this pyramid.
We would also really like you to learn from us about:
- Hypervigilance, sensory overload and what triggers really are.
- Negotiating communication preferences and sensory needs.
- Consent as an ongoing embodied practice.
- Stimming, the invention of ‘normal’ and the pathologisation of difference.
- The medicalisation of distress, drapetomania and the DSM.
Above all, we want to ask you :
- Why would you want to learn ‘authentic’ embodiment from people who may be doing nothing illegal, but who treat the people around them with varying levels of contempt?
- When will you learn that exposure doesn’t trickle down?
- When will you learn to believe people when they show you who they are?
- When will you learn that you cannot separate someone’s online voice from their personal values?
- When will you learn that the lack of accountability in your online spaces is built in?
- When will you learn that the real work, the deep work, is happening all around you – in care homes, in prisons, in secure units, in families, in communities, and above all, in relationship?
Everywhere where good people care for each other, learning to be together day in and out, there ethical and authentic embodiment is. Until you model your online spaces after the same grassroots spaces, nothing will change.
Until you slow down, until you stop handing power to those with great marketing skills and loud voices and no depth of practice, until you stop organising this culture like an industry, nothing will change.
In a decade or two of practice, we have watched you evolve: from seeking transformation in a one-day workshop of 200 people; to expecting it in a 2-hour webinar with thousands. There is no depth there.
We have already anticipated the kick back from this invitation. We have heard it all before, too many times, including the accusation of ‘weaponising’ our experiences. We are clear that such statements, peddled freely in online discussion spaces, are experienced as violently ableist and show little real understanding of trauma and neurodiversity. This is an invitation. It is not a call-out, it is not a command, it is not a confrontation, and it is not a fight. Like all invitations, you can accept, or not. You can place it gently on your mantelpiece and glance at it now and again just to remind you that it is a choice.
This is a once and for all statement in relation to The Embodiment Conference. We will be shielding ourselves from further aggression.
Meanwhile, we’re still working in our communities, for very little pay, but at least our hands are clean, and our hypervigilance is quiet. If you want to learn with us, we’re not that hard to find.
Offered in the spirit of healing for us all.
Rev. Jude Mills, MA, PGCert, Interfaith Minister, IYN Yoga Elder, Yoga Alliance Professionals Senior Yoga Teacher & Certified Trainer, yoga for cancer specialist, bodywork therapist, Certified Embodiment Facilitator. Autistic practitioner and advocate.
Dr Jess Glenny, IYN Yoga Teacher (Elder), C-IAYT yoga therapist, Registered Somatic Movement Teacher and Facilitator, Open Floor cert, PRYT cert, complex trauma specialist, hypermobility specialist, PhD. Autistic practitioner and advocate.
Dr Theo Wildcroft, PhD, MA, MA (Cantab), IYN500, Yoga Alliance E-RYT500, Lifetime honorary member BWY, accessibility specialist, consent advocate, co-founder of alt-ac.uk and Co-ordinator of the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies. Survivor of CSA living with complex trauma, neurodivergent practitioner and advocate.
Jorge Arche Fernández
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