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.


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.