Guardians Of The Vibe: Tribe Design VIII in Washington

By Scott Haber

Smoke lingers from the summer’s wildfire season at the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The mountains resting on the opposing shoreline are barely visible through the haze. A small group of people gather, sharing in movement and conversation. Apprehensive in the way strangers are before they get to know each other, the group appears uneasy and distant.

As the last cars barrel down the gravel road, which drops into the campsite, a circle is formed and International Tribe Design VIII formally commences. Introductions start atypical from usual, not with professional labels, external successes, or any other Functional Based Identities (FBI’s), as Daniel Eisenman, the founder of Tribe Design and central figure throughout the retreat put it. Rather, introductions start with a confessional. Each individual steps to the center of the 30 person circle offering a one-minute soliloquy on the last things they want others to know about themselves. There are no premises; no preludes; no justifications; no stories. Only the facts themselves.


With these introductions, the tone for the week is defined by authenticity and vulnerability.  Relationships are founded upon different axioms than the usual: everyone was seen, heard, and accepted for the entirety of their being, right from the beginning.

Though strangers only two hours prior, after the confessional, it seemed as if everyone were childhood friends. Arms were intertwined, laughter was contagious, and conversations were marked by the unwavering eye contact usually reserved to couples who have been together for decades.

What if we showed up in all our relationships similarly to tribe design? How would the world change if more people were seen, heard, and accepted for the totality of their being - the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the light and the dark - instead of continually trying to hide themselves?

The collective release of confessionals led to a easefulness that permeated into the following dinner. The dining room was lively, brimming in dozens of individual conversations. Each pairing was locked into the world of their counterpart, as if nothing in their peripherals existed.

In a time where technological addiction is a ubiquitous epidemic, could these dinners portray a solution? Is it about withdrawal, abstinence and avoidance, or rather creation and cultivation; generating more authentic, deep connection, where the urges to check one’s cell phone are not even present?  When was the last time you went to a dinner with 20+ people and did not see a phone the entire time?

The work done at Tribe Design VIII, wasn’t only emotional and interpersonal, but it was also physical. On the second day, Rafe Kelley a movement connoisseur, evolutionary philosopher, and founder of Evolve Move Play led a workshop to help participants redefine and reintegrate touch, play, and movement into their lives. Rafe began by discussing modern communication. The majority of interactions now occur over screens. In the digital realm, communication becomes one-dimensional, losing tone, eye contact, and touch. In the process of dimensionally reducing our conversations into text boxes, touch has been placed into the “sex-only” box.

To start the workshop, Rafe split the group into partners and instructed each pairing to mobilize the others’ neck, gently moving their head in non-patterned circular motions, watching for the physical and emotional responses of their counterpart. As partners gained a sense of comfort, the exercise took the form of an elaborate waltz. Each movement gave participants feedback on how to appropriately touch their partner and where they experienced resistance toward being touched.


Rafe chaperoned the activity, ensuring couples were not falling into routines, but rather allowing themselves to play in fluidity. Rafe’s philosophy is centered around play. As he said, “human beings evolved to move. We evolved to develop through play. Play is our most powerful motivation system for developing movement and the best guide for the movements that are most important to human well being.”

Through defining boundary conditions for appropriate exploration of bodily sensations, the tribe grew a fascination for touch and pain. One participant said, “I noticed that pain is pervasive to my life and touch is uncomfortable. And this sparked a genuine curiosity to explore what touch and pain mean to me.” Facilitating this inquiry, Rafe would tell the group to try and dance with pain when it arises, as he explained, “Pain isn’t only mechanical. It’s also bio-psycho-social. When we tell ourselves something is painful, the brain can generate and code us to experience that pain.”

The flow of motion seamlessly transitioned into a flow of music. The group circled around a wooden guitar played by resident musician, CK. The soft acoustic melody was initially met with apprehension, but when freestyle artist, Tyson, entered into the circle and began pairing lyrics to the rhythm, the harmonious movement of the group gradually emerged once more. Tyson, the youngest of the Tribe Design retinue, serves as musical facilitator and producer for the Tribe Design events. He nonchalantly dropped rhyme after rhyme, while changing his cadence with ease and maintaining an icy-cool confidence that is usually reserved for a seasoned musician.


Tyson reminisced on once being shy with his musical expression; acknowledging that he needed encouragement to enter into the circle. Only through attending Tribe Design Events was he able to find and continually actualize his musical gifts. Hence, this flow session was not intended for only the well-versed freestylers. Each person was called into the circle and encouraged to share their flow. One-by-one, participants stepped into the center, cautiously releasing a rhythmic stream of consciousness. As more people joined in, the confidence of the group grew. Through the synchronous repetition of lines and humming of tones, the single-handed freestyle transformed into a group sing-along. Suddenly, this crowd of people who had never shared in music before appeared as a well versed choir.


When darkness usurped the last bits of hazy day light, neon bulbs and polychromatic  tapestries brought color to the tribal grounds. Giedrius, known as G, transformed the camps’ wooden gazebo into a vibrant shelter coated with blankets and cushions, draped by textiles and lit by fractal lambent patterns. Once darkness set, the group would migrate over to the festival-like enclosure, sharing in massages, songs, and conversation at what was referred to as the “G Spot.” G, intentionally curating the music and lighting to match the mood, set an environment that exuded both the zen of a spa and the excitement of a concert. With the seriousness of the days’ emotional and physical work left behind, participants were able to lay back, process the day and facilitate deeper relationships.


On the third day, the “Mystic Misfits”, a trio of men who usher groups through retreats and work at each Tribe Design event, guided a session they term as “oxytocin overload.” During “oxytocin overload”, participants were divided into two lines. One line was instructed to close their eyes, while the other was guided to circle around and hug each person in the opposing line. The huggers were told to hold the receivers firmly, enduringly, and affectionately. After each person in one line was hugged, the roles were swapped.

In this workshop, the hugs were done in anonymity, removing sexual projections from the equation. With the absence of discomfort, participants held each other for upwards of three minutes. As the boundaries between people dissolved, soft whimpers and long sobs were released.

How would our relationships change if we held our friends and family in a similar manner? When was the last time you gave a hug as an expression of endearment? When was the last time you received a warm embrace without sexual connotations?

The mystic misfits may indeed be onto something with their oxytocin overload workshop.  Research suggests that long hugs stimulate oxytocin secretion and, in “safe” environments,  oxytocin may promote prosocial behavior. Though, in this workshop, hugs did not only offer psychological benefits, they also promoted spiritual reprieve. The more lost you were in the sensations of the hug, the more attuned you became to the ethereal aspect of the present moment.

On the last evening Juvan Langford led a workshop. JuVan, whose father passed to Leukemia and mother battled with substance abuse, was raised in foster care and subjected to relentless bullying. On a lifelong journey of healing, JuVan transformed his trauma into a voice for others, where he tours around the world primarily teaching boys and men how to live and lead from their hearts.

JuVan’s workshop started with a session on leadership and sovereignty. With a presence that commands a rooms’ attention, he used diagrams to empower the group to choose their own path and the right people to accompany them along the way. He picked his words with precision, as he said about relationships, “life is about people; relational wealth; being rich in connection.”


After setting the tone with his lecture, JuVan went around the room working with each individual, asking them to set three quantifiable requirements for what they need from relationships with themselves, their love life, careers, and friends. Though a towering 6’6 stature, JuVan’s presence gave an inherent feeling of trust and comfort. When speaking to others, he was fully engaged with them, and only them. Demonstrating their ease around JuVan, Tribe Designers were vulnerable while working with him. As he challenged them further, asking they set higher requirements for their life, tears fell and resolutions were made.

Upon JuVan’s workshop coming to close, the haze that had lingered since the first day began to dissipate, and revealed a forest of emerald evergreens adjacent to a glassy lake. The sight was met with enthusiasm by members of the group, who sprinted through the trees, pausing only momentarily at the edge before immersing themselves in the water.

The word community seems fitting. Throughout the retreat, individual identity was shed for collective belonging. The retreat revealed the counterintuitive nature of how strong communities are built upon vulnerable human connections. When constructed in this way, individuals have greater capacity to empower their fellow community members. In times, where it seems the “status quo” and the “normal” are collapsing, leaving many to search for alternative ways to find meaning, there is a strong desire to foster community. In communal spaces, ideas can be expressed, wounds can be healed, and evolution can occur both collectively and individually. That’s what Tribe Design is all about, as Daniel explain it’s: “Building the strongest tribe as fast as possible, using the modalities of music, mystery, movement and memetics.”


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