Exploring our own liberation

I’ve been thinking lately about what work is helpful towards the movement out of patriarchy to consent-based, self-direction. In listening to the thoughts of other activists and changemakers, and observing life including my own, it’s brought me to thoughts about the freedoms and liberation that we have, and how we use or don’t use that space.

There is one type of activism in this work, that looks like ‘shifting the goal posts’ in a way. It’s about making structural changes to systems and institutions, that creates more space for freedom of choice and broader rang of experience. So for example, in the education system, if you change the assessment process at the end by opening it up to things other than just exam results, you create the possibility and opportunity for different experiences in the lead up to that point. If you expand what is available on a curriculum, ie give people more choice about what and how they study, then you increase the possibility that people can make different choices or choices that are better for them and more aligned with their interests.

This is of course really important in making it possible for something different to occur than what is possible with greater restriction. You need to move these things to create space for difference.

However, just moving these things isn’t enough. When people have been conditioned in a certain way, within certain limits, expectations, beliefs, within a certain story of success and failure, just moving the goalposts isn’t enough to create the change that we want to see. Even with more space and options, it’s likely that people will still act and behave within what is ‘known’ and within the culture in which they have been immersed to that point.

Therefore, even once you have opened up more space, there is a need for new cultural experience, stories and learning, to help people make use of that space, that freedom, that increase in choice that is available. You would think that a basic human drive and need for agency, autonomy and freedom would just rush into that new space and be happy and make the most of it, and in some cases that might be what does occur, but for the majority I would say it does not.

Many people need to see things being modelled to develop their own confidence to explore the previously unknown. They need to see someone ‘jump’ before they are willing to jump themselves. So just opening up the space for the jumping isn’t enough without the support to enable folks to take that opportunity. For more info on this, check out this video.

This is true in personal life as well as in changing institutions. Having more freedom theoretically, doesn’t necessarily translate to a greater use of that freedom in personal choices and actions, or awareness of that liberated space in felt and embodied sense. For some it does – but for many it doesn’t. For many people, a lot of fear and uncertainty remains, residual from past oppression and limitations, fear that feels very real and current, that there is a threat looming over their exploration of their own freedom, that keeps people in their cages long after they have been given a key to open the door.

That fear may well be justified – in exploring our freedom and liberation there is of course risk. Risk of failures, dead ends, risk of change. There is a sense of safety in sticking with what is known, even if that is a cage. A sense of self-protection that comes with never picking up our own potential freedom, instead staying limited but feeling more in control. The reaction of others can be diminishing to our confidence and will to thrive in our liberation and spaces of freedom.

I once heard a story about seals that were living in an aquarium in Scotland. Their pen was on the edge of the North Sea, so there was a wall in the sea that they stayed within, but just on the other side was the full North Sea. One time there was a big storm, and the waves were so high, that they went over this wall, and the seals were able to swim out into the sea, off and away. Only they didn’t swim away. Later on, the aquarium keepers found the seals, back at the wall, wanting to come back into their enclosure. I imagine they were hungry. They didn’t know what to do with the sea in any case. They wanted to come ‘home’ to their pen. Wild animals raised in captivity or who experience captivity for a while usually need a reintegration process, and careful handling to successfully be able to survive in the wild lives they were born to live.

To get the most of the freedom and liberation we already have, and the freedom and liberation we want, to be able to explore that fully and make the most of it in this life that we have – to live in integrity and express our full selves, we may need to skill up. Take it on as an active challenge to be in that space, challenge ourselves, push ourselves a bit, understand that it might be a discipline to persist in exploring the liberation we already have, let alone what might be to come when goal posts move. What might we need to learn to make the most of that space and opportunity? To be more free, self-directed, to be more in our own experience of consent? What might we need to know? Is there more space for this in your life already than you think, that is yet to be fully explored? In your pocket do you have a key to the lock, maybe the door is already wide open…

Thoughts on the moment/movement.

I’ve been in a weird and reflective time lately. There has been a lot of change in my personal life over the last five years, huge shifts and pivots, and now I find myself in what feels like an entirely new situation. It’s fair to say that my life today is somewhat unrecognisable compared to how it was back then – or it least it feels like that, and yet, there are some things that remain the same. Isn’t that the strange thing of a growing and changing life – everything can change and yet somehow not everything? Even when all is different, some things just aren’t.

You could say that when change happens, it’s like everything gets dumped out on the table, and then over time, comes to form some kind of order again. If life were a big box full of things, there are these seismic times where it feels like everything in the box gets dumped out on the table. Then you sit with an empty box for a while. Then you find you need to go through everything on the table. And then, in Marie Kondo style, you can pick up each thing, see how it makes you feel, and decide whether it goes back in the box again or not. Maybe some things got a bit damaged in the tipping out stage, maybe there is the need for repair. Maybe some things got smashed. Other’s look the same, and can go back in. Others, you don’t want back.

For me the constants have been the love and regard I have for my children. My grounded commitment to the work of consent-based education and life. My love of and need for nature. Love for myself and others – although there has been plenty of wounding, sense-making, feeling, healing and grieving regarding the complexity and nuance of this. My love of life and hopefulness has stayed. Even in the darkest of times, even if it’s just a bare thread, there has been some access to this sense of light and connection.

What has come into the box in greater measure than before – magic and spiritual practice is one thing. I realised a few years ago, once we had the Cabin up and running, that I/we/the work needed more ‘protection’ than just the everyday. Systems seek to preserve themselves, the dominant paradigm does, patriarchy does. It’s not a level or equal playing field, you need more help than that in creating the new. I knew we/I needed more help. And I knew that for me that meant something magical and ‘other’. From that realisation came the development of a personal and group spiritual practice, a magical practice, and a more magical way of being in the world, in work, in my life. This new thing came along with all the change in my life and has acted as a life saving and tethering force.

And what now for the movement? When a lot of change is happening, it can feel like you just have to keep your head down until you get to the other side. Then, once things have settled out, you can look up and out more, get a sense again of the wider and bigger picture. What is happening out there? Where do things stand?

Things are different now, I think they are. Covid has had its impact on that, political, economical stuff of course too. Things are not the same as ‘back in the day’. Organising doesn’t feel the same, the movement doesn’t feel the same, people don’t feel the same. Or maybe, I am wondering as I write, is it because I don’t feel the same that everything else looks different? I don’t think so. The conditions have changed, and things have changed and are changing? I don’t think I know where everything stands right now in the same way that I felt that I did before. I feel like home ed is different – perhaps its because my children are getting older so I’m not in the same stage, not being in and seeing other folk in the early stages of parenthood, that it feels now kind of separate? What is happening now with people who are just becoming parents – what’s going on for them? Is there the same discussion and discourse as there was for me 12 years ago? Is there the same rage and upset and emergent activism around the experience of babies and young children, the pain at the absence of healthy culture, relationships, systems, belonging, community? For baby humans and their parents? Especially their mothers?

And for folk in more of my circumstances who have opted out of the mainstream system, who want different for their children, the cycle breakers, those who have been drawn to and believe in a consent-based, self-directed way, and who’s children are now coming up to or in the early teen years. What is going on there? I have this feeling that folk are losing their track, and/or that there is a fearfulness emerging? New and different pressures to contend with? I feel like, there is something with the age of the children, the distance from the early years and or perhaps fatigue, that is causing people to lose some connection to their previous ways, and instead be drawn to something that is more in keeping with ‘normal’ or something? Like they are looking at their older children and thinking: now it’s time for you to do proper things and it’s the end of play. Now it’s time for the ‘real world’ and getting serious, or something. Maybe some kind of letting go is happening? Perhaps there is conflict, new and/or different needs expressed by young people themselves in all of this?

The things that mattered before… where are they now? And who are the new folk coming up?

I wonder what you think about it? Do you know what’s going on?

Alongside all of this wondering about the bigger and broader picture is wondering about the smaller more intimate picture of my own work, my use of time and energy. The Cabin and the Lodge, the team and community making that happen, including me – I’m part of a team, and that’s a wonderful thing, it’s a staple not to be taken for granted. I’m loving doing 1:1 work and small group consultancy, and the learning/training events, retreats, it’s deep work that feels great. Creating spaces of realisation, creating spaces where consent-based self-directed culture is normal and experienced by people of different ages. It’s healing and exciting. It’s peaceful and high energy. It’s creative and real. And at the same time I’ve been asking myself questions about how and where I work, who I work with – am I in the right places, doing the right thing, with the right folk? Am I lined up right for my purpose and what I’m meant to do here? I think the answer might be ‘yes and’ rather than ‘either or’. Yes I am, and I’m going to be doing more/different. As I line up right, I know my dance partners can and will find me.