Three Anatomies – a viewpoint to observe ourself and the world

By Donnalea Van Vleet Goelz, PhD

From an evolutionary perspective, adaptability is the key factor to survival. This would imply the more diverse a structure is the more options for survival”  –  Emilie Conrad

The Three Anatomies are three lenses, or categories, used to explore who we are. In Emilie’s 2007 book, Life on Land, she devotes a chapter to the Three Anatomies. In following years Emilie continued to develop this concept, and it held, and still holds, a core area of the philosophy of Continuum. She felt that the Three Anatomies could be used as a guide to give us more probabilities for human potential and to see and experience ourself in a more diverse way. For example, as we change our lens to look at ourself with a different viewpoint (a different anatomy) we can see ourself and experience ourself not simply as a 21st century biped walking upon the earth but part of an unfolding cosmic and biological process. How does one accomplish this?  It is by experiencing movement and our body in a wholly different way than the viewpoint or level of consciousness that we are used to. We are a more diverse life form than we could have possibly imagined, and this can be experienced.

The Three Anatomies are the primordial, the cultural, and the cosmic.  I will go into specific detail of each of these lenses, or worlds, so that we can create conscious awareness around each anatomy. Hopefully, we will be able to experience how each of these lenses inform us – and form us.

The Primordial Anatomy: Our evolution

 “After many eons, the beginning of a species called Homo sapiens began to make itself distinct from other species. This new creature, with its organs, circulating blood — all of its interior life — still undulating with its oceanic origins, muscled itself on land. But, always, through it all, no matter what, its internalized fluid resonance continues to carry the message of the sea”.   –  E. Conrad

What do we really know about our bodies? You ask different people this question and you will get many different answers. Usually, what we know is from the perspective of our own life experience. If you look at our body biologically from a scientific point of view, it is estimated that we are actually a four and half billion-year process that has developed from single cell organisms (prokaryotes) to the amazing and beautiful complexity that we call the human body today.  But how did we get here?

Lynn Margulis, an evolutionary theorist, biologist, science author, and educator, was a scientist ahead of her time.  Her discoveries in biology have forever challenged and changed our perspective about such things as evolution. Her work on the evolution of the cell was at first rejected by the science community but has now come into being as the common understanding of the science world.  Symbiogenesis, or endosymbiotic theory, is a theory of how life evolved starting from the bacterial level of single prokaryote cells to the more complex eukaryotic cells that have a nucleus enclosed in a membrane. Margulis was not the first scientist to talk of this theory but she did substantiate the theory with microbiological evidence in the 1960’s and brought it to modern day attention in her many books and papers.

Margulis’s A Symbiotic Planet (A New Look at Evolution) was a very important book for all of us in Continuum when it came out in 1998. I still feel it is an important book to read for understanding our origins, our biology on planet Earth.  One of my favorite conclusions that she arrived at is that the evolution of life on this planet was not as we have thought based on Darwin’s concept of survival of the fittest.  Rather, she believed it was more about survival of those that cooperate.  How did she arrive at this theory or idea? It really begins with the creation story of our species and many other life forms on this planet through cell development on our planet.

Enter Homo sapiens

Another important concept that Margulis was trying to call our attention to is the way we as Homo sapiens think about and treat the world we live in. She felt that this could be the biggest factor for our possible extinction. Lynn Margulis in Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time discusses how ten to twenty thousand years ago life hit a peak of diversity. Then we appeared and she even describes us as the great meteorite. ( retrieved Oct. 14,2021)

Realizing what we have done to other members of our biology family on this planet is a bit overwhelming to even imagine.  Do we as Homo sapiens concern ourselves with the effect that we are having on this planet? On an even less positive note, Margulis states in Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution:

“Life is a planetary level phenomenon, and the Earth has been alive for at least 3000 million years. To me the human move to take responsibility for the living Earth is laughable – the rhetoric of the powerless. The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self-inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth or heal a sick planet is evidence of our immense capacity for self-delusion. Rather, we need to protect us from ourselves.”    ( retrieved Oct. 14,2021)


In Continuum, we have a concept of species inclusiveness. What Emilie was trying to say is that we should look at how life evolved on this planet and we should begin to realize the interconnectedness of life on Earth. We evolved together.  If we feel our connection, then maybe that is a beginning of respecting and caring for all life forms.

Movement and exploration in this anatomy is a slowing down and returning to the fluid system within. It is a dissolving and experiencing of oneself as a totally fluid being, before forms developed within our body. Attuning to the preformative, we begin to feel the interpenetrating and undulating waves that are always going on within our bodies. In this anatomy you feel we-ness of the world. Your experience is of “we” not a “me”. It allows you to feel the primal level of your experience as a life form. The fecundity of life can be felt.   Emilie felt that a dissolving into the preformative is a way for the regenerative process to occur.  Another way to say this is by letting go of formed structures such as dense tissue from tension and stress, feeling your body as pure fluid that when you come back from this type of a dive you have the opportunity to leave the density behind.


Cultural Anatomy

Rather than being overwhelmed by our current cultural challenges Continuum Movement accepts them as exciting opportunities to invent ourselves differently, not as bionic-humans but as the exemplars of the courageous and the daring. Let us see these times as seeds for a probable future with the wetness of the stars still gleaming in our eyes and the rush of the seas throbbing in our heart as we dream the future, and it is US.  –   E. Conrad


The second anatomy or lens that we look through to observe our participation in life is the cultural anatomy.  It is easy to see how as biological living beings we participate with the ongoing process of life.  What many people fail to realize is how much the culture we live in and the other cultures of this world affect and shape us. We are shaped tremendously by culture and yet we hardly ever seem to examine this major influence on us and those around us. Think of the differences of a child that is growing up in New York City compared to a child growing up in a tribal community in the Amazon jungle or a child growing up in a Middle Eastern Islamic country. Now consider, instead, a young girl growing up in New York City compared to a young girl growing up in a tribal community in the Amazon jungle or to a young girl in a Middle Eastern fundamentalist Islamic country. One can see the possibility here of how culture shapes and defines us.  Yes, the different landscapes and traditions have a major influence but the way each of these cultures sees gender strongly shapes our abilities to have different opportunities and self-empowerment.

Biology enables, culture modifies.

Biology enables us to live on this planet; culture limits how we must live. Each culture shapes the human body according to its assumptions about what a human being is, and what is best for society. It must do so to contain the multitudes of souls that live within its limits. But the individual can become absorbed in the consensus, and the primal bio-uniqueness of the organism can be lost. A primary value of Continuum Movement is access to the universal processes within. That process is a transcultural, universal movement of fluidity.

Cosmic Anatomy

The body is a planetary process, not yours; you just get to occupy it.   –   E. Conrad

Cosmic Anatomy can be seen as that part of us that is universal, one’s identification with the wholeness of the universe instead of belonging to a certain culture or a certain species. This viewpoint involves modern knowledge of the physics of the universe and can be said to be the spiritual aspect of Continuum.  It is where one goes beyond one’s own concepts into the unknown.  The mystery of being. It is a place where survival concerns “move off stage” as Emilie put it.

I would say that one of Emilie’s main identifications of herself would have been that of being a universal being, a part of the wholeness of the universe. Emilie was especially drawn to the works of the physicist, David Bohm.  She considered his 1995 book, Wholeness and the Implicit Order, a must read for those of us that were teachers.  There are several important theories that Bohm discusses in this book that deeply relate to core values of Continuum.  He talks about fragmentation and wholeness, how our perception as something separate is actually a flawed perception, an illusion.

“The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. Indeed, the attempt to live in according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led growing series of urgent crises that are confronting us today. Thus, as it is now well known that this way of life has brought about pollution, a destruction of nature, over population, world-wide economic political disorder and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for people who live in it.” (pg. 1-2).


Bohm points to the fact that we have divided into separate nations, we have different religions, different governments, etc. It seems to be a tendency of our species to go into separation. One of the most interesting examples that really affects health is our western medical community, where we have adopted the idea that we need to see a specialist doctor when we become ill.  Having great knowledge about a specialty can be helpful but not if the doctor is not also well attuned to the fact that our human bodies are intricately connected, and one system greatly influences another. The word health is an Anglo-Saxon word that means wholeness. Most of us, when considering the idea of health, do not think in terms of wholeness.

Bohm does point to the idea that it can be helpful to break things down, fragment ideas, in order to start to get an idea about how to proceed with one’s problems in a manageable way. We can be overwhelmed to just look at the entirety of the situation, but we must realize that in our fragmenting the idea, the reality of wholeness is missing.

Bohm states in his introduction that he feels mankind has always been looking for wholeness on the mental, physical, social, and individual level. Our language is one of the problems.  Where we believe there are nouns, he sees a world of verbs and actions.  Think of one of Emilie’s favorite sayings, “Movement is not something we do, it is something that we are”. You can see how it relates to Bohm’s concepts.

If you are interested in understanding more, you can get the free download of it below:



Applications of the Three Anatomies

The Three Anatomies can be invoked and felt through using different breaths and the movement has a different quality in each anatomy. Emilie describes the cultural anatomy as purposeful, linear, and reflexive movements.  It is more like fetch water, carry wood mode. The primordial anatomy is felt more as interpenetrating undulations. It has an informing quality, a felt connectivity. The cosmic anatomy has very slowed down, uninhibited, very fine filament-like movements of suspension. If you watch a person’s movement while experiencing the cosmic anatomy, they have a very relaxed connected feeling of belonging. It would be as Bohm states, “Thus one can no longer maintain the division between the observer and the observed. Rather, both the observer and the observed are merging and interpenetrating aspects of one whole reality, which is indivisible and unanalyzable” (p.9)

The different breaths that we use in Continuum also help to evoke a different feeling within, hence they can evoke a different anatomy.  It would be not correct, however, to say that one specific breath belongs in one category or anatomy as the breaths, depending on how they are they are expressed, can actually be used to help in each of the anatomies.

I will end this chapter with a favorite Rumi poem – guess what anatomy I feel the greatest call to?

Rumi: In the Arms of the Beloved

Last night I learned how to be a lover of God,
To live in this world and call nothing my own.
I looked inward
And the beauty of my own emptiness
filled me till dawn.
It enveloped me like a mine of rubies.
Its hue clothed me in red silk.

Within the cavern of my soul
I heard the voice of a lover crying,
“Drink now! Drink now!”—

I took a sip and saw the vast ocean—
Wave upon wave caressed my soul.
The lovers of God dance around
And the circle of their steps
becomes a ring of fire round my neck.

Heaven calls me with its rain and thunder—
a hundred thousand cries
yet I cannot hear….
All I hear is the call of my Beloved.
― Rumi

Rumi, Arms of Beloved retrieved Oct.14, 2021)





Bohm, D., (1995). Wholeness and the Implicit Order. Routledge, NY, NY.

Conrad, E., (2007). Life on Land. North Atlantic Books, Berkley, CA.

Margulis, L., (1998). Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution. Orion Publishers, Amherst, MA.

Margulis, L., Punset, E., (2007). Mind, Life, and Universe. Chelsea Green Publishers, White Water Junction, VT.