SOUL FIRE WRITING RETREAT – 18-20 MARCH 2022, DEVON, UK

I am really excited to let you know that in March I will be collaborating with Max Hope to host and lead a writing/activism retreat, at Selgars Mill, a beautiful setting in mid-Devon. The retreat is bringing together two projects, Write on Changemakers and Soul Fire, is inspired by the work of bell hooks, and will be run in a consent-based and self-directed way. We have put together a plan for the weekend, which includes guiding writing provocations, healing and liberating ‘deschooling the body’ and ‘find your power’ sessions, as well as fires, food, and circling.

There are a limited number of spaces available, you can find out all the details here. Would be great to see you there!

Rewilding and Deschooling: a dialogue between Max Hope and Sophie Christophy

Please note: this piece was first published on Write On Changemakers.

Authors: Max Hope & Sophie Christophy

Max Hope, Director of Rewilding Education and advocate of freedom is passionate about rewilding and is excited about how concepts of rewilding can be used to ignite radical educational change. Sophie Christophy, Founder of The Cabin and unschooling parent, is a feminist and children’s rights activist and originator of the concept of consent-based education. They are activists and partners in work and in life. In this exchange of emails, they discuss whether rewilding, deschooling and unschooling are simply different names for the same thing, and debate whether these look and feel the same in practice.

Max: I want to radically change education. For me, the formal education system in this country – by which I mean schools, colleges, and universities – is completely dysfunctional. It is rigid and constraining and it treats all children and young people as a homogeneous group. It distorts our experiences of our own selves. It shapes children’s self-esteem by valuing and prioritizing some types of learning over others (academic over creative, emotional, sensual, practical etc.). It sets children up against one another. It is obsessed by measuring and assessing. It totally separates us, as human beings, from the natural world. Do I need to go on?

I am increasingly drawn to the idea of rewilding education. By this, I mean bringing in the wild, connecting to self-will, trusting our inner selves, tuning into authenticity. I want us all, as human beings, to feel deeply connected to the natural world, to feel a part of an ecosystem. I want education to be offered in a way that enables freedom, space, spaciousness, trust, playfulness and spontaneity. I want to connect to the wild. I want to honour each individual and our place in the world. I want us all to belong, to feel connected, and to strive to make the world a better place.

You use the language of unschooling and deschooling. You invite me to use this language alongside – or instead of – the language of rewilding. Can you tell me more about what these terms mean to you? 

Sophie: There isn’t a big gap for me between what I understand unschooling to be and what you mention above in your description of rewilding education – deschooling is for me the process by which someone who has been schooled goes through in order to unlearn and decondition themself from schooled ways, beliefs and biases, in order to unschool and hold unschooling space and relationship for others. Unschooling is a movement and a way, a practical and actionable response to the problems that you identify with the education system. Unschooling acknowledges those problems, identifies them as being unacceptable, and then decides to do differently. For each of the issues (and more not yet mentioned), there is a response. Where the system is rigid, unschooling is dynamic, fluid and ever evolving. Where the system homogenizes young people as a group, unschooling recognizes that young people – like people of all ages – are unique people, with different needs, wants, interests, ways of doing things, paths, priorities, identities and more. 

Crucial to unschooling, and deschooling process, is recognising, valuing, and seeking to protect a person’s connection to themself. This connection is easily disrupted and damaged – especially in our culture that has little regard or care for a babies/toddlers/children sense of self. In childhood especially, when our need for relational attachment and security is really peaked and dominant for survival reasons due to our dependency on our caregivers, our connection to self and our own authenticity is especially vulnerable. We will surrender our selves before we risk rejection from those we are dependent on.  Part of deschooling is the healing work to reconnect to ourselves again, in order to then unschool. The language is confusing but there is an important difference between the work of deschooling ourselves, and the experience of unschooling.

Unless people in care giving roles make a special effort to recognise and honour the sense of self of babies and children, a ‘normal’ childhood experience in our culture leads to all kinds of damage, disorientation and separation. But perhaps I’ve strayed from your original question here. I’d like to know though, where do you think getting ‘unwilded’ starts? I am proposing it is as soon as we are born, and start to engage with the relationships and childhood culture in our society that discreetly starts to sever us from ourselves by 1000 cuts…

Max: I like the phrase ‘sever us from ourselves’, that’s a powerful image. If we define wild as ‘self-will’, then I can see that there is a clear overlap between rewilding, deschooling and unschooling. They are concerned with self-will, with authenticity, with deeply tuning into ourselves. They are trying to avoid the severance of human beings from themselves, or in the case of rewilding and deschooling, to enable people to heal from the severance and to re-connect with themselves. I can see that. Our underpinning agendas are similar here.

My question to you, though, is whether unschoolers are also concerned with our severance from the natural world? For you, is there a problem here, and what do unschoolers do about it? I watched a TED Talk by Logan LaPlante (aged 13) who defined his approach to education as ‘hack-schooling’ (which I took as being similar to unschooling) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY ). He chose to spend one day per week in nature, and he talked about gaining a deep and spiritual connection to nature, as well as making spears and fires and shelters and having fun. This was his choice. He self-directed this experience. He wanted it to happen. Is he unusual in this, or is this a common thread for many unschoolers?

In direct response to your question, yes, I think ‘unwilding’ starts at birth. Or even before birth, if you have any interest in pre- and perinatal psychology. As a culture and as a society, we have in-built processes which disconnect us from ourselves and from the natural world. It is hard to imagine that any child, young people or adult has managed to avoid this.

Sophie: There are people who, in pregnancy, birth and the time that follows, have an awareness of the threats of ‘unwilding’, though they would use other language to describe this. People proactive in trying to reduce those risks, and push back, or rather, protect what could be called a ‘wilder process’. There are also birth workers active in this effort too. I’m saying this because it’s important to me that this effort not be erased. There is a history to this and an ongoing movement.  

In regards to your question, it is very common amongst unschoolers that I know (I live in a rural context, but am connected to broader unschooling community online) to be nature connected and environmentally aware. I also think that the power dynamic of unschooling – power with and not power over – doesn’t normalise dominator culture as school does, is potentially enabling to unschoolers in seeing that they are of nature themselves, not separate from or above it. 

What if we flip this question on its head, and ask why people become nature separated in the first place? I would argue that school and schooling separates us from and confuses us about our role in natural world and the land we live on. It also robs us of time to be in it. The film In My Blood it Runs tells a story of how this happens from an Aboriginal perspective of modern day (colonial) schooling in Australia.  Our system isn’t different, we just don’t have Aboriginal folk like Dujuan to point out its problems to us (although I think children here do to try to tell us in their own ways). 

I’m not saying that all unschoolers have a strong desire to spend a lot of time out and about in the woods (some might be more cave folk than tree folk 😉 for example), and family interests and priorities no doubt play a part, but unschooling creates a lot more time and space to follow your instincts, think about what is important, and to connect with nature at your own pace and your own way. My observations from the self-directed education setting that I co-run is that there is an innate drive in children to go out and be in nature. 

As a child did you ever, as I did, gaze longingly out the window and the blue sky and sun, whilst being stuck in a classroom for the fifth day in a row (and seeing that as normal)? Unschoolers can accept nature’s invitation. I think that humans are likely predisposed to seek nature connection, just like human connection, as a basic human need, but most are obstructed from doing so in a way that unschoolers are not.  What do you think?

Max: Did I ever gaze longingly out of the window? Yes, I am sure I did. I loved to go outdoors, jump over the stream, get covered in mud, play football, fly kites. I also loved to stay inside, watching TV, reading books, playing board games, watching more TV and chatting to friends.  As a child of my time, we did not have computer games, endless channels on TV, YouTube, Facebook or any of the other technologies that children and young people have easy access to today, and I cannot be sure what impact these options might have had on me. I think they might have enticed me to stay inside more often.

It is not just school culture that is responsible for separating children from themselves, from each other and from the natural world. There is a plethora of other influences too.

I understand your point about unschooling offering more opportunities for nature connection, for being outdoors, for following instincts. I can see that unschooled children and young people have more time for this, and they might be in a family culture which values these types of activities.

My question though, is whether developing a deeper connection with the natural world is necessarily an outcome of unschooling? If children and young people are genuinely and authentically able to self-direct their own experiences, I am yet to be convinced of the inevitability of them choosing to stay connected, or reconnect, with the natural world. They might utilise their freedom and self-will to pursue entirely different endeavours. Is this a fair conclusion to reach?

Sophie: Unschooling requires a deep connection to our core nature/self. I am using these terms interchangeably because that is how I understand them to be. What is rewilding if it isn’t about creating optimal conditions for ‘nature’ to be able to express itself?  Being ‘self-directed’ is being directed by our own nature – being ‘nature-directed’ – directed by our own nature. 

When it comes to being connected to or reconnected to the natural world, then that is an interesting question isn’t it. And deserves some exploration and considering as to what we actually mean by the ‘natural world’ and what we mean by being ‘nature connected’. I would particularly like to interrogate if we have a shared belief about what ‘nature connectedness’ actually looks like in practice, and what might inform the ideas about that. 

I think there are many, many different ways to experience nature connection, many different behaviours that can be demonstrative of nature connectedness. I also think that it isn’t a black and white situation – of either someone being nature connected or not. I would like us to bust open some assumptions and stereotypes here as well – like for example that being a gamer or utilising screen-based technology means by definition that you are not also nature connected. 

So, my question to you is, What do you mean by the ‘natural world’, and what does being ‘nature connected’ look like and mean to you?

Max: Being nature connected. Hum. The phrase ‘nature connection’ is used so frequently in the circles that I move in, and yet it is rarely defined. Now you have pushed me to explain it, I am finding it quite difficult. The obvious response is to talk about feeling a connection to the natural world, to plants and trees and birds and animals. ‘Nature connection’ activities often include fire lighting and sit spots and sleeping out under the stars. 

And yet, in this moment, I am feeling that this response is inadequate, because human beings are a part of nature, and not bystanders to nature. As your own 7-year old said a few weeks ago, ‘We are Nature’. And so, what does this mean for nature connection? Is it also about connecting to the nature within ourselves, to the wild inside? Is ‘nature connection’ about tuning into our own internal nature, and deeply connecting to this? Do we start with ourselves or with the wider, living world? Does connecting with one impact on our ability to connect with the other? As I said, hum.

I totally agree that this is not a clear-cut issue. Nature connected: yes or no? Deschooled: yes or no? Rewilded: yes or no? There are so many shades of grey, so many nuances. It is far more helpful to see these as spectrums where we can be further along, in different ways, and at different moments in time. I know that this is certainly true for me. My personal journey to rewild myself is long and complex and, at times, feels like one-step-forward-two-steps-back. I wonder if this is the same for your own personal deschooling and unschooling journey?

Back to education. In your view, if the process of deschooling and rewilding are the same thing, what are the implications for my aspiration to rewild education, or in your terms, make it more like unschooling? Can you imagine that it is possible for mainstream schools (or colleges or universities) to become any wilder? 

Sophie: Is it the same in my deschooling journey? With one step forwards and two steps back, as you say? I think that it is a journey for sure, with winding paths, experiences along the way and aspects that can challenge our progress. I think that as with journeys generally, there are different ways to approach them, different factors influencing them, and different experiences and outcomes as a result. I am very keen and dedicated to getting as far along as I can, as consciously as I can, and ideally, with as many other people as I can, and that dedication does affect my journey and state of deschooling I think. I would rather ‘rest’ than take backward steps if I can help it. I am aware of the things that can cause backwards steps and where possible, I really do try to be boundaried regarding those things because I don’t like to feel dragged back into more schooled way of being. I try instead to put myself in places that are encouraging me and inviting me on. 

On to your other question – is it possible for mainstream schools to become any wilder? Not without massive consciousness raising and shifting of those who hold power and influence. People in the mainstream have to break open like I have had to do, like you have had to do, in order to accept how dysfunctional the current system is, how badly it separates us from ourselves, and really understand the impact of that. How it currently does the opposite of what is wild, by dominating and colonising our bodies, hearts and minds, disorientating and distancing us from our selves. You can’t solve the problem if you aren’t willing to look at the problem, right to its edges, to its core and to the deepest parts of its roots. And we both know how painful and hard that experience can be, how debilitating even at times.

I think a question those of us wanting to see this change need to ask ourselves is: what part can we play in this? I believe that those of us that can see this problem are here and can see it for a reason, and have a profound, incredibly important role to play. I think we each have something miraculous and personal to contribute to the process, unique to who we are and as an offering from our own path. 

Max: What part can we play in this? What a great question. No simple answer though. The issue, for me, is that we live in a world in which mainstream schooling is the overriding culture, and where attending these schools is the predominant experience for most children and young people. Alternatives – elective home education, self-directed settings, private schools – are still only available to a tiny percentage of children. And so, if we want to affect change, which I know that you and I both do, we have to decide where to put our energies. 

When people live in built-up, over-populated urban areas, they might be tempted to conclude that they can’t do any rewilding of the land, that this is some sort of fad or trend that is only available to rich folk in rural areas. Not so. There are loads of fantastic stories of people who are rewilding urban spaces. People can make significant impacts in small corners of the world, within the space that is available to them.

I hope that this is also the case within mainstream education.

I absolutely agree that mainstream schooling culture needs to be radically transformed. The ecosystems within mainstream schooling cultures need to become freer, fairer, healthier, and wilder. Is the challenge too big? Is there any point in trying? I work from the position of optimism, of believing that individuals can make a tangible difference. I believe that we can work to rewild small spaces in education, whether this be within the heart of one teacher, or one classroom, or the culture within one bunch of teachers.

I want more, and I feel an urgency around this. But to some extent, this is a strategic decision. I wonder whether the language of rewilding might be more palatable than the language of unschooling? Do you think that inviting mainstream educators to ‘deschool’ themselves might be more confronting than asking them to ‘rewild’ themselves, even if you and I believe that these are actually a similar thing?

Sophie: I don’t want to get stuck in the problem – and trying to answer all of the questions that you raised risks doing that to me. We could try to answer them all, but how much time would have passed between now and then? Time when we could be taking actions in our lives to make a difference, rather than thinking about what actions we might want to take. I’ve felt this time pressure keenly because I had to make choices to do with my own children’s education and those choices couldn’t wait because they were forced by their age. I do really believe in being strategic and holding sight of the bigger picture. But I also think that what matters maybe more is getting on, from where we are, in our own lives, and not worrying too much as to whether it’s the best most fool-proof action that will change everything for the better, but trust that doing something will take things on in the process in a positive way. 

Everything takes energy – engaging with the nuances of the problem takes energy, and experimenting with creative solutions takes energy too. I think it’s really important that the balance of that is kept in check. And I think it’s important that in answering this question we make it as personal as possible, rather than hypothetical and generalised. What part can play in this change, what can I do? I take this issue so seriously I’ve been willing to put myself on the line for it. I’ve made decisions that have been perceived by others as risky, things that have resulted in a lot of isolation and have othered me. I’ve taken what would be considered by others as ‘risks’ in regards to my own children. And I’ve held that line. Creating the new in whatever way we can is what manifests the future and change that we want to see. 

That’s been my belief – make the future now by creating spaces and behaving in ways that are in keeping with what we are working towards. Making a commitment to this is crucial, and for me in my life, this commitment has had a very practical and life changing connotation. Commitment and action are two things that I think are needed for those of us working on this. Accept that things are fucked so you don’t keep asking questions about it or have to keep on convincing yourself over and over again in the problem phase or by convincing others or seeing others agree. Then decide what for you the answer is to this – what is it that the different way and future needs to look like, so things aren’t fucked. Commit to that vision so you don’t need to keep questioning it. And then act like you are making that vision come true now. As many decisions as possible made in the image and honour of that vision. And that is now new futures are manifest in reality. So, let’s try again and get personal AF – when I say, ‘what part do we have to play in that?’, what I mean is what part do you, Max Hope, in all your gloriousness, experience and passion, have to play in this, in real, actionable terms?

To be continued …

Last chance to book the Consent-Based Education Course

Hi folks,

This is a quick note to let you know that there are a few places remaining on the Consent-Based Education course that starts next Tuesday evening via Zoom.

This will likely be the last time I run the course until September 2022 at the earliest, so if you feel it will be useful to you in your deschooling journey, please do take this chance to register.

The link with the details are here.

To book your place, please email me at hello@sophiechristophy.com to let me know, and make payment of the course fee (£288) via Paypal here.

I will shortly be setting up the group for participants as we are soon to begin, so please book by the end of tomorrow, Wednesday 5th January, if you would like be a last minute joiner!

Authenticity

Following on my list of writing prompts, the one for today is Authenticity.

This is such an interesting subject. Something at once so simple and so hard, and so important for self-direction and consent.

I’m going to start by describing what authenticity means to me. To me, authenticity is the most honest and true expression of something. What is on the inside, is what is expressed on the outside. What is true and honest for someone, is said and is made known. That is what it means to be authentic. For me, authenticity sits along other words such as integrity, honest, true. For me, authenticity is about an honest and clear, direct expression of self.

It is obscured by coping strategies, stress responses, people pleasing/accommodating behaviours, or any other self-concealing things. One of the most tragic aspects of trauma is how it can scare and rob us of authentic expression. In some situations, this behaviour can be necessary for coping and even survival. Due to oppressive and discriminatory environments, discreet and explicit threats of all types of harm and violence, authenticity can be so damaged and compromised, not just in individuals but in the culture and environment as a whole. There are so many circumstances in which authenticity is broken. And in those places, and in that knowing, I still believe it can survive, that it is possible, that it can make it’s way. That there has to be a way.

Authentic expression to me is what is made known when a person has given themselves permission to, and continues to commit to, braving it as their truest version of them-self, with their bare self, intentions, ways and purpose made visible and freely expressed.

It is also the absolute centre point and guiding anchor for self-direction and meaningful consent. It is what gives the ‘self’ in self-direction meaning, and from which we can hear a ‘yes, no or maybe’ of consent. There is plenty in our world and culture to make us fearful and confuse us away from this centre point, and cause us to lose alignment with ourselves and therefore blur or mask our honest authentic expression. There are circumstances in which it may feel impossible and life threatening to be honest, true and free in our expression of ourselves.

But when we lose ourselves in this way, we also lose our lives. We lose ourselves, and everything after that is a mess because it’s based on a misleading and false sense of things.

How can you experience or engage in consensual living and relationships, if your way of being is wobbling all over the place when it comes to authenticity?

In order for something to be meaningful consensual, it must be an informed choice, freely given. If someone is behaving inauthentically, for what ever reason – is hiding, concealing, their real heart, centre of self, their true alignment and expression, then how can another come to then in a consensual way? They can’t see what it is they are really doing, in order to make an informed choice. And the choice isn’t freely given, if it’s been somewhat controlled by the presentation of information that is designed or limited in some way to sway through withholding.

It is true, that for many people it can be difficult to even locate this authentic centre. The dominant culture in which we live serves to separate us from our selves in many macro and micro ways throughout our lives from the earliest days. We’ve been grown in a soil of interpersonal and institutional violence against the self and authentic expression, where full range of emotional and other expressions of self are curtailed, limited, and loaded in various ways. This makes our engagement with our self and the world around us feel dangerous or alluring, influenced and biased in ways that lead us away from authenticity and can trigger experiences of stress and result in the adoption of coping strategies mentioned above.

And the dominant cultural resistance/erasure of the natural phenomena of lifelong learning, change, growth and evolution can stifle and limit us to a single version of ourselves, again cramping our authentic expression lest it in some way disrupt our lives or endanger relationships and foundations.

However, and this all being said. We can return to ourselves. We can find ourselves. We can work and and practice expressing ourselves. We can take risks. We can try, and practice, and work towards a new normal where authenticity feels natural and normal, and part of life. Where it just feels like us, integrated, and whole and free. Where we feel free and wouldn’t want to hide away ever again, because we love and treasure authenticity so much and know what the cost is of anything else, and all we can imagine is a world in which authenticity is in all the places and is the baseline for love and relationships. All we want is to feel the heat of that burning soul fire, that authentic heart and self.

Conflict

After my last post, I had a request to write about conflict. So here is a post unpacking conflict in consent-based, self-directed education spaces.

Firstly, conflict as a phenomenon is key to consent-based self-directed culture. Conflict as a situation must be expected and even wanted, as it is a sign that people are able to hold their own shape, stay connected to their true wants and needs, and sense of them-self. Conflict can be time consuming and hold up peoples ability to ‘get on’, so you ideally want a situation in which it isn’t constantly occurring (this would show some incompatibility between folks in the space and the guiding principles/culture, for example, or structural issues in the community that need addressing so that it is easier for people to navigate the space and meet their needs – more people in the community, for example). But you do want to see some conflict.

You certainly need people in the community to be working on healing any kind of conflict resistance or avoidance reactions that they may have. It’s normal that folk would experience conflict avoidance, given the punitive, non-consensual and shame-based history and character of the dominant culture in which most people have grown in (intergenerationally also), and that we are trying to step away from. But this must be addressed and healed in order to release into self-direction and consent-based life. You can not self-direct and experience consensuality of you are not open and willing to the possibility and experience of conflict.

To understand how to hold and navigate conflict in this new way, first we need to understand the root of the word. The root meaning of conflict is ‘together’ (con) and ‘strike’ (flict). In contrast, the root meaning of consent is ‘together’ (con) and ‘feeling’ (sent). Consent is when an experience feels ‘together’ or as one, one with our self and one with the other. A shared yes of something feeling right. As an individual, it’s that feeling of one and yes with an experience or environment. A feeing of sharedness and compatibility.

Conflict is where there is a strike, think of flints striking each other and creating a spark that lights up a difference. This is the energy of a conflict, a difference, a resistance, and discord of wants, needs, of energy. Conflict is when something together is not matched, it’s experienced as difference.

Now, conflict and consent occur for the same but opposite reasons. Consent occurs where their is a matched and shared understanding, and a match and shared need. Conflict occurs where there is an unmatched or misunderstanding, and a mismatch and not shared need. Neither of these things are inherently good or bad, they are just a reality of a particular situation at a particular time, an expression of what is true for someone or something in a given instance, a reality of two people coming into contact with each other and reacting due to having different needs and experiences.

Where consent occurs – things that are matched and compatible, it is easy to see what can happen next – they just get on with whatever it is they are coming into contact about.

Where conflict occurs, there is a different need around what happens next. And we have a massive cultural black hole in our experience and understanding of what to do in these situations, as the dominant culture mentioned above teaches us nothing about how to navigate this type of scenario, so we must learn.

It is easiest to work with conflict when it is caught early. When it is left untended, it can begin to morph into other experiences that then cloud and obstruct dealing with the actual conflict that is occurring, due to people feeling increasingly triggered, unseen and unheard, frustrated and upset. I’m first going to share about conflict when it’s addressed in it’s early stages of emergence.

The way to address conflict when caught early is by using the root origin of the word, and exploring the root causes of that particular situation. So, firstly, you can notice the conflict because something is happening that is striking up against each other, there is a halt in the flow of energy and a discord. Then, you want to find out the two things: What is the misunderstanding here? What is the unmet need here?

How this looks as a facilitator in a consent-based self-directed space would look like the following, lets say if the conflict is occurring between two people, either of whom have requested help to navigate it:

To each person:

  • What happened for you? – listen and learn from what that person tells you about their experience, what led into the conflict, what happened during, and up to now. This stage also usually deescalates agitation and the feeling of conflict, as the person will begin to feel seen and heard, a common stressor in a conflict situation.
  • What do you need now? – once you have heard from them what happened for them, you may have a sense yourself of the underlying unmet need that contributed to the conflict occurring, but they may also have new needs as a result of experiencing the conflict itself (for example they may feel wronged/harmed by the other and in need of an apology or some kind of restoration). So you are looking to establish the original unmet need, and any new needs caused by the experience of the conflict itself.
  • Can you meet the need of the other? – once you have heard this from both people, you can then see if those people are able to meet the needs of the other. If they are not (this maybe the reason why the conflict has happened, the work is to then find alternative options to enable the person to meet their needs and move through and on from the conflict situation).
  • What other ways can that need be met? – if the need can not be met by the other, what other ideas and ways are there that could meet the need instead. Crucially, this is a question to the person with the unmet need, as they are usually best at imagining alternatives that might work for them, but it can also be helpful to make suggestions or remind them of what is available.

Can you see how in this process is a curious and open approach, where the locus of power remains with those involved but with facilitation to help it be managed? Two key things are happening in the process: 1) by asking these questions, misunderstandings are hopefully being cleared up, and as information is shared personal and relational blind spots are decreasing and our understanding and knowledge of the other is increasing. 2) Unmet needs are becoming revealed, increasing the chances of meeting them in the process or of finding ways for them to be met.

In the situation of a conflict, if only one party is wanting and willing to go through this process, then it can happen 1:1 with a facilitator, who can support that person in making sense of what happened and understanding their options for what they are going to do next. Equally, this process can be held in a group, but using a meeting (see my previous post).

Sometimes, the misunderstanding that has occurred can be due to a gap in a persons cultural understanding of the community and it’s guiding principles. This can cause someone to hold unreasonable expectations or false notions about what is needed from them in the community, and/or to behave in ways that are in conflict with with the community culture. For example, a conflict may arise where one person in the community makes a sexist comment to or about another member of the community, not realising that the community holds the principles of children’s rights and social justice, and therefore, can not accept that kind of comment as normal. In that case, the conflict navigation process will need to include that person increasing their understanding of the guiding principles and the reasons why the community can not accept oppressive and discriminatory behaviour.

In this kind of scenario, the person on the other side may also need support in understanding how it is possible for someone to think sexism is normal, and something of the problematic historical and dominant culture reasons for this, in order for them to hold some space and compassion for the learning of the other who may be new to this being challenged. Sexism is routinely normalised and directed at children and prevalent in our society, this has an impact on people and family cultures and sometimes these biases need addressing in community. Conflicts that occur of this nature help us to see these usually hidden influences, and give us an opportunity to learn, grow and heal.

The Meeting

I’m going to write a few posts exploring different aspects of my work, and the first one is about The Meeting.

At the Cabin and the Lodge, the two self-directed and consent-based education settings that I co-run, we start and end the day with a meeting. You could also call this a circle, rather than a meeting, but in the settings we call it a meeting, and in this piece I will move between use of both terms depending on what feels right at the time.

The meeting is a crucial aspect of the healthy functioning of a self-directed, consent-based space. It is what opens and closes the space, it is what helps us establish the culture of the space. It opens and closes our container of being together. It also serves many important practical functions, that are key to the community being able to do what it wants and needs to during the day.

At the Cabin, we have a total community size of 23 people each day, and we meet in two circles. When we were 15 people and under, we met together in one, but we learnt that with more than 15 people you are giving your meeting a better chance to split it in two. Our current community size at the Lodge is 10, so we meet in one circle.

Now, what I am going to share about basic meeting practice for self-directed and consent-based spaces is as applicable to a meeting with 15 people in, or a circle of 1. And I mean that – this ‘way’ is a process that we can use alone, in navigating ourselves and the world around is, in a pair, or in a group. The principles remain the same and are important in creating a culture of self-direction and consensuality.

You start the meeting by choosing a Chair. It is their job to hold the meeting for the rest of the people involved. That is a real responsibility of service and care, and it is an important and honourable role in the community. Ideally, this role is shared amongst the community, with different people taking it on rotation and serving the community in turn. At the Cabin, we have Chairs as young as 5. The community is called on to support and help the chair in their service to them. And in turn, each chair receives this support and help when it is their turn.

In a circle of 1, you are the Chair. It is up to you to hold this process and space for yourself, and to take it seriously.

The Chair is there to hold the process, and guide the community and meeting through it’s stages, that then helps to lay foundations for creating the culture in which the community can thrive. The first step is to make, or remind, of the agreements that bind the community and meeting together. These are the things that the Chair and the rest of the community need, in order for the meeting to work and feel good (consensual) for everyone. Often times they include agreements about how people can participate, and reflect the cultural principles of the community – for the Cabin and the Lodge these are: self-direction, consent, ed positivity, democratic/collaborative decision making and children’s rights.

When practicing agreements as an individual, they look like a person checking in with themselves about what they need in any given process, including a personal decision making process. Again, this should reflect the persons values and guiding principles for the life and culture that they want to live. It might include things like: I will tune in to myself in order to make authentic and honest choices, I will make sure that the decision I make is aligned with my higher self, I will ensure to be open and curious in my considerations, I will ensure to know and protect my own limits, boundaries and needs.

Once the agreements are established, the next part of the meeting can take place. This is the Check In, where everyone in the circle has a chance to share to the rest of the group what is important to them at that point and circumstance. At the Cabin and the Lodge, this might include sharing about a person’s well being and needs that day, or what they hope to do that day, a sense of how they are arriving into the space, or anything else that seems like it is relevant and needs mentioning about themself. No one has to check in – it is a consensual process as you would expect, so if people want to they can pass entirely – knowing of course that if they do have any needs, wants or news, that this will go unknown to the community unless they make the effort to share it at another time. The key point of holding time and space for the Check In, is so that everyone in the meeting experiences that they are a person than matters in the community, who’s voice matters, who has personal power, who deserves their place in the community and will be listened too. It is knowing this that is important, rather than the check in itself (although of course the content of this is important too should they choose to take that time and space to share).

In a circle of one, a check in is still important, that is a check in with oneself. How am I doing right now? What do I need, what do I want, what do I have capacity for, what don’t I want. What is my intention? It’s a chance to connect to who we are and feel grounded and present in ourself and current situation.

After the Agreements and the Check in, comes the Hands and Plans – in other words, where the ‘business’ is done. At the Cabin and the Lodge, this looks like sharing the plans for the day, which are informed by the closing meeting of same day on the previous week. The plans are read out, and everyone has a chance to add or change as needed. It is also a chance for important whole community announcements or news, and a chance to make agreements around new resources, solve problems, for accountability and questions etc. Anything that the whole community’s presence is relevant and needed for, happens in this part of the meeting.

In a meeting of one, this is where you would start to address whatever question, decision, opportunity or problem you are dealing with, that led you to call the meeting with yourself in the first place. Perhaps it’s the time to explore and reflect on something to do with a relationship, a work issue, an issue of personal or relational accountability, a dream/aspiration, something to do with identity, spiritual connection, what ever it is that needs some attention, care and deliberation. You’ve set the ground for it by connecting with the agreements you have with yourself (your values and principles and the life culture you are working to create), you’ve connected with your wants, needs and intention with the check in, and now from that place you can start to consider and navigate the challenge/opportunity on your hands.

Once the business is done, the Chair asks the community: “Is there anything else?” And pause – is there anything left to come? Ask again: “Is there anything else?” Perhaps there are one or two things left in the circle that still need to emerge – it’s important to double check. Once the Chair is satisfied, the meeting can be closed. At the Cabin and the Lodge, we know there will be another meeting at the end of the day, in which we will check out and propose plans for next time.

In a meeting of one, or where you don’t have another meeting with yourself lined up for later in the day as follow up, you might close your meeting with a check out after the ‘business’ is done, which could look like answering the questions: “How do I feel now? What is my next step now that I’ve done my ‘business’? What do I need now?” and using that information as direction for what is to come next in your life after the meeting.

And then the meeting is complete and the circle can close.

January 2022 Consent-Based Education Course!

I’m excited to share the dates and information for the January 2022 Consent-Based Education Course! There is a waiting list for this course, and place offers will be sent out shortly. If you would like to be added to the waiting list for this cycle (subject to availabilty) or a future cycle, please email hello@sophiechristophy.com

2022 is the 5th year that the course has been running, and I can’t wait to get to work with a new cohort of change makers on this journey!

The course will take place via Zoom, time and dates are as follows:

Time:

7-9pm (GMT)

Dates:

Tuesday 11th January

Tuesday 25th January

Tuesday 8th February

Tuesday 22nd February

Tuesday 8th March

Tuesday 22nd March

Communication during the course:

Once booked on to the course and before we begin, I will add you to a private Facebook group, which we will use for the duration of the course. This is where I will share the resources that lead in to each session, the plans for the session, other important info, and it is also a community space that will exist after the course cycle has finished.

What is the course about?

As parenting evolves beyond the traditional authoritarian, patriarchal model of ‘power over’, and families make the choice to live together in more mutually respectful, socially just ways that acknowledge the personhood and agency of children, essential questions arise as to what that means in regards to our relationship with ourselves, others, and our outlook and interaction with the world around us.

Consent-Based Education is a response to this tension. What happens when authoritarianism/patriarchy is stripped away, and we become more questioning, self-directed and empowered in our own lives, and desire this for the children in our lives too? What does it look like to move beyond patriarchy, to embrace our own personhood, agency and autonomy, and question the education, socialisation, social norms and values that we’ve experienced until now? What does consent, voice and agency mean to us, and how do these things relate to authenticity, self-direction and self-actualisation?

This course is designed for parents and people who live/work with children, who want to explore and go deeper into their understanding and practice of Consent-Based Education, for their own personal development and to support life-long living and learning in a consent-based way. It is especially suited to unschooling parents and those working in/practicing self-directed education.

The course is made up of the following six sessions:

Session 1: What is Patriarchy, its impact and effect?

Session 2: Breaking Cycles – the Process of Change

Session 3: What is Consent-Based Education?

Session 4: Love and Relationships, Boundaries and Freedom

Session 5: Living and Learning, Creativity and Flow

Session 6: The Bigger Picture

Each session will last for two hours, and include the following:

Agreement making (how we are going to work and play together),

Check-ins,

Me sharing on the theme of the session,

Chance for reflection, questions and deepening the inquiry,

Exploring putting the theory into practice,

Check out.

As you would expect, the sessions/course is run on consent-based education principles, so that it experiential as well as content based. Basically, I’ll be practicing what I preach in the way the whole thing works!

An important note about the transformational nature of the course:

This course has a transformational quality to it – it has been described as “life changing” by multiple participants. It is designed through the lens and process of my own journey, which has been profoundly transformative and impactful to every part of my life. Every time I have run this course cycle so far, it has again had a deep impact on my life, and been catalystic of change. This has included the ending of important relationships, changes in family relationships, personal growth, loss, grief, liberated creativity, experience of self-actualisation, deep personal alignment and spiritual expansion. I have witnessed this also happen in the lives of those that have taken part. You will be encouraged to manage your participation in the course in the way that you feel ready for and is right for you (consensual engagement), however it is important that in booking on to the course you do so knowingly of the impact it may have, and that change in yourself and in your life may be catalysed as a result.

A note on partners:

I run the course with my partner, Max Hope, present in the sessions. This is for my own development in running the course (she gives me great critical feedback), for support during the course (it’s a very intense experience that is transformative for me too), and to support her own journey and process in this work (it’s super helpful to be in the same process together and sharing what is going on). Where partners are enthusiastic to be part of this course together, it can be an amazing experience and I highly recommend booking two places. If you have a partner(s), who will not be taking part, you may wish to consider how you can ‘bring them along’ your journey in some way, outside of the sessions.

To book: A place on the course is £288. People on the waiting list will be contacted in order shortly with booking details. If you would like to be added ot the waiting list for this course (subject to availability) or future course cycles, please email: hello@sophiechristophy.com

#microUMA Reflections so far

I have loved doing the research and exploring this microUMA, finding out more about my new beloved instrument. I have dug some way into it’s origins, found the person that made it by their own hand, researched more about the history of percussion and particularly tuned ‘drums’ such as steel pans. I’ve explored and considered it’s name – a ‘steel tongue drum’ and why it might be called that, who mas made these drums. I’ve asked and wondered about the relationship between these instruments and senses of masculine and feminine energy, and I’ve been drawn to see who is playing these instruments, especially where this feels queered in some ways.

What I feel up to now, is that using vibration and sound is deeply embedded in human ways, and always has been in all places. Meeting the need for sound and sound connection, and the use of sound as a way to engage with ourselves and others has resulted in the innovation of all kinds of different instuments, over human history. The first place we make sound is in our own bodies, our voices, the clapping of our hands, stamping of feet, through movement, through contact with things around us. Through our own heart beat and pulse. There is a beat to it all, a movement, a vibration, expression. And instruments that are made are a way to further enhance, amplify, and vary our expression of this. My experience is that the instrument that I have helps me to release and channel a sound that comes through me but that I try to interfere with as little as possible. It’s a vehicle for the expression of an energy and a sound that is more than me.

By the way, I’ve decided my drum is called Snaily, because of the pattern on it looking like a beautiful snail shell, and as I love snails it feels fitting. So I will refer to it as Adam (who made it) did, a steel tongue drum (even though it isn’t technically a drum, I want to respect his sense of it), but then in my work and way with it I’m going to just call it Snaily. I hope, once I’ve settled into my own practice with it, to offer sound baths to other folk who like it too.

I’ve just been reading this article by Jennifer Engrácio. I loved this part:

“Drumming is often used in shamanic healing ceremonies; the drum can be used to shake up low vibrating energies that are lodged in the client’s energy field so that transformation can occur. The drum is used to harmonize chakras and restore balance to the energy field. In fact, studies are now showing that engaging in singing and percussion activities can help to heal the effects of historical and intergenerational trauma. (I highly recommend Resmaa Menakem’s book “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” for those who want to learn how to use these embodied practices.)”

Jennifer Engrácio

These feels so resonant to me and what I was describing in my first #microUMA post about psychic attacks and my experience of playing Snaily. I read this from Shaheen Miro:

“Because of the vibratory nature of bells they are an extremely effective form of spiritual cleansing and protection. Bells can ward off negativity and unwanted visitors, this is the origin of the funeral toll. The vibrations from the bells will break up the negative and stagnant energy left hanging in the air. They move and jolt to life the stagnant and worn-out.”

Shaheen Miro

What I want to say also at this point, is that I’m really not into the idea that playing these instruments, making this sound, is reserved in some way for some people, some places, some ways. Sound is a healing modality. It can clear our bodies and energy. It can break through aspects that are not serving us, that may be blocking or harming us in some way. It’s really powerful, and I fully believe in everyone feeling that they are entitled to and have permission to engage in this directly, and not be dependent on somone else or be limited by ideas that it’s not for them to experiment and engage in this. Some people like to wild swim, some people like to run, some people like to stretch, there’s s many different ways that people might be drawn to for spiritual and energetic care and healing. Making sound, by using percussion for example, can be as normal and everyday as getting in the shower, or stretching first thing in the morning.

I like to create a ‘set’ when I play Snaily – I like to light some candles, breathe first, relax, set up in an intentional and careful way. It helps me then to feel into what is happening and have as intuitive and free experience as possible. But that isn’t necessary all the time. I like to sing, I like to listen to music too, remembering to bring that into the every day is good for me.

Snaily was made from repurposed steel, from a recycled gas tank:

Adam forged it with love, care and intention. But this is Snaily, this is where Snaily came from, what it is made from, and I don’t intend to forget that by removing my sense of playing Snaily from something that is deep and down in the ground, from it’s roots. This is what has helped me heal myself and cleanse my energy. From this gas tank. Thank you gas tank.

Steel pans/drums also come from these types of material origins:

“In 1877, the ruling British government banned the playing of drums in an effort to suppress aspects of Carnival which were considered offensive. Bamboo stamping tubes were used to replace the hand drums as they produced sounds comparable to the hand drum when they were pounded on the ground.

These tubes were played in ensembles called tamboo bamboo bands.

Non-traditional instruments like scrap metal, metal containers, graters and dustbins were also used in tamboo bamboo bands. However, by the 1930’s these metal instruments dominated the tamboo bamboo bands. The bamboo tubes were eventually abandoned and replaced by the metal instruments.

These early metal pan bands were a rustic combination of a wide variety of metallic containers and kitchen utensils which were struck with open hands, fists or sticks.

The metal pan players discovered that the raised areas of the metal containers made a different sound to those areas that were flat. Through experimentation, coincidence, trial and error, and ingenuity on the part of numerous innovators, the metal pan bands evolved into the steel pan family of instruments.

As the pan makers knowledge and technique improved, so did the sound of the instrument.”

https://www.steelpan-steeldrums-information.com/steel-pan-history.html

And look at Evelyn Glennie play her kitchen:

The first percussive sound, first beat and vibration that we hear must be that of our mother’s hearts when we are in the womb, a constant beat. My babies are big now but they still love to cuddle up to that beat – it must be healing. This is my baby when he was little, resting against my heart:

I’ve had an idea for the hand bells that I am going to have access to once I’ve moved in a few weeks time. I’m going to try out something that I’ll call ‘intuitive ringing’. One of the great things about Snaily is that it’s tuned to a chord. That means, that whatever and however you play, the notes are complimentary. I want to try seleting a set of bells that are also a chord, distribute them to those that are there to play, and then create the opportunity for each person to ring their bell as and when and how feels right to them. I think I might experiment with setting a timer for this, so lets say, we all can play in this way, in the chord, for 3 minutes. I’d also like to try it where there is no timer, and like with Snaily, we start and continue until it feels time to wind down to the end. People will be able to close their eyes, and not worry about making a ‘wrong note’, becuase there will be no wrong notes. And we can see what it is that emerges, what we make together. I think it will be great.

I want to explore more about how I might bring bells and Snaily into my own spiritual and witchy practice. What types of ways I want to do that, how it might be and what if any other percussion I might want to add to what I already have as part of that. My partner Max has a rain stick, and I’d love it if she might want to weave that into this story too….

Note:

Today marks the last day of the microUMA 2 week stint, inspired by work taking place within the current Consent-Based Education course which also finishes today.

#microUMA reflections on masc and fem percussion instruments, and sound healing

I’ve been reflecting on the drum/pan name question, and have had some thoughts.

I’m wondering these things: are pans and tuned metal percussion instruments, such as bells, the steel tongue drum, chimes, more fem in energy? And are drums, more masc? The folk I have come across so far that are creating steel tongue drums/tank drums like the instrument I have are guys, and they are making their instruments and calling them drums, and I am wondering if there is something in there that is around their own masculine sense of identity – being a drum maker, calling the instrument a drum – when it might more acurately be called something like a pan, or a bell or chime related name due to the kind of instrument it actually is?

The process of making a steel tongue drum, for example, is quite masc energy in it’s activity and action: sawing reclaimed steel, fire and forging, the sawing of metal to create the notes. And then the end result, is this beautiful ‘drum’, that feels effortlessly fem resonating, and in the way that it is played, intuitive and fem feeling – but perhaps in the most gong like ring there is some heart of masc as well?. Perhaps it is the combination of a masc energy process and a fem energy end sound that is part of what makes it so special? Do the two somehow become forged? Or is it not like that?

When I am writing about this, mentioning masc and fem, I want to make it clear this comes from an energetic perspective. I believe that we can move in and out of these energies, that we can be in them differently at different times, that some folk might be more masc or fem leaning energetically – perhaps have a masc or fem dominant energy, or may feel in balance generally but at times lean into each way, but that this energy is not the same as the form of their physical body, or necessarily their gender identity. It is an energetic sense, an energetic quality, with a distinctive feeling. For myself, I experience myself generally as been masc fem energy balanced, but know when I am leaning more into a masc energy, or more into a fem energy. So it isn’t loaded for me, for example, if the steel tongue drum is either masc or fem leaning, becuase I can meet it in either place by shifting in my own energetic state of being.

These types of things are though very culturally loaded. I’ve done a lot of lovely deschooling around this for myself, and to me, what is amazing is when people feel really, really free in their energetic movement in the masc/fem spectrum/space, and do not hold any kind of self-judgement or sense of one or other being somehow better or more ok.

In our culture, which traditionally has held a very strict sense around what it means to be masculine or feminine, and who can be these things and what that looks like, this kind of movement and feedom in masc/fem energy and experience, can be described as ‘queer’ or ‘queering’. (Another tricky term due to it’s history as a slur, but the best term I have for describing this, I am using it as a function: to queer, means to me to move effortlessly across the masc fem space regardless of other features and identity.)

So, you could say, that a woman playing a masculine type of instrument is ‘queering’ if she is playing that instrument by leaning in to a masculine type energy to do so. Or a guy, leaning into a very feminine energy to play a feminine feeling type of instrument, is also queering it. It’s mixing up and playing with all of these things at once.

When I plat the steel tongue drum, I play it intuitively. I play mostly with my eyes closed, and with no intention of a tune in mind, but instead try to ‘get out of the way’ of what is happening, and play in as channelled and intuitive way as possible. To me that feels very fem energy. It ends up in a very flowy, meditative and cleansing experience that feels divine fem. I know what masc energy feels like, and I think I know what divine masc is, and that I think comes across more in other ways that I work and express myself. I know that I am not partnering with this instrument in a masc energy way.

But then again I come back to wondering whether there is an energetic union taking place. Becuase when I play, I experience the steel tongue drum as a means by which to express the essential energy that comes through me. By that, I mean the white light energy that is neither masc or fem but just is. And the instrument is just that, I means by making that divine light energy resonant in the world and a way to let it pass through my body without accumulating.

I’ve been doing some reading about this:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/mar/08/why-do-orchestras-have-so-few-women-percussionists

and:

I’m interested in the history and issues around women playing – some earlier research about steel drums/pans in Trinidad and Tobago thew up something interesting about this:

“It really came from the bowels of our impoverished lower classes and we are extremely proud of that,” says Michelle Huggins-Watts, a Trinidadian steel pan arranger.

“It helped bring the players recognition, it allowed them to travel and see the world, it brought opportunities they would never have had if they had not been involved in this art form.”

Huggins-Watts is a rare thing. She is the only woman arranger to win the island’s prestigious Panorama competition with her band, Valley Harps.

“It wasn’t until the late 1970s or 80s that women even started playing the steel pan. It was a street instrument, it took a while to become respectable,” she adds.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18903131

I once happened to end up at an event where Evelyn Glennie was the keynote speaker, I’d love to know what she thinks about all of this, and what her persective/experience is. As she moves through different types of percussion, that I might thing of as masc or fem, I wonder if she experiences energetic movement, in and out of the masc and fem as she plays different things, or not? I’d love to know also what her thoughts are on sound and healing too. I’m going to look some more to see what I can find from her online.

I’ve started reading about sound healing. I’m trying to start to build my understanding of the work being done around this:

https://harmonicsounds.com/sound-healing/ and https://gostica.com/spiritual-nutrition/sound-healing-instruments/

If you know any good resources on sound healing, please send them my way!