Breathing is not an indulgence

Author: Mirel

On this land,

winter is ending

and I can still rest.

I am kept awake only by coffee and screens,

and endless reems of news.

As I scroll from bed,

I hear groans, I hear screams,

from beneath the rubble

of bombed out theatres

and decimated apartment blocks.

When I stretch,

I slowly awake to the world again.

When I rise,

I take my body out on the land again.

In another land,

bodies stretchered out of hospitals,

bodies on the roadside,

body bags tipped into pits.

In another land,

the war dead are singing in the rite of spring.

– – –

Our breathing is not an indulgence. 

From Pain to Power: a collection of writing from the Soul Fire Writing Retreat, March 2022


The Soul Fire Writing Retreat was held in March 2022 and was facilitated by Max Hope and Sophie Christophy. Our intention was to offer a supportive and encouraging environment for those attending to re-connect with the ‘why’ behind their work. We were inspired by bell hooks and her thoughts and practices on feminism, social justice, truth-telling, and the practice of love.

During the retreat, we wanted to co-create a piece of writing that we could publish at the end of the weekend, something which communicated our collective and personal commitments to change making, authenticity, speaking our truth, and speaking from the heart.

This collection of writing – a chain letter – is the result.

‘From Pain to Power’, a prominent theme in the work and words of bell hooks, created the focus for the chain letter, and was a thread that wove throughout writing provocations and embodied sessions during the retreat. The writing process worked like this: one person started writing and finished with a question. It was then passed to the next person who wrote their response and finished with a question. Their writing (and not that from the first person) was passed on to the third person, and so on and so forth. The speed of the chain letter sped up as the weekend progressed until finally, after 30 hours, we had finished. The order of the fifteen writers was picked randomly, literally as names out of a hat, and each writer was under time pressure to complete their contribution. No-one saw what everyone else had written until we had all finished.

This is the finished chain letter. This is as it was written, mistakes and all.


Max is a facilitator, educator, researcher, activist, and writer and the creator of Write On Changemakers

This is it. Today is the day. There are fifteen of us at a writer’s retreat and the sun is shining. We are here are we are ready. This retreat is for activists and changemakers. It is about building connections and creating community. It is about writing and speaking our truth.

We are here and we have stuff to say.

We are a mixed bunch of people. We do not speak with one voice. We do not sing in tune. We are united in a desire to advance social and environment justice, but what does that mean? What do we do? What do we think? Who are we, really, at the core of ourselves?

Our retreat is inspired by the work of bell hooks (1952-2021), a prolific author, activist and academic who persistently spoke her truth, even in the most challenging of circumstances. Her courage, her intellect, her compassion, and her fire are with us here. She wrote about feminism, social justice, racism, colonisation, inequality, patriarchy, love, power, and so much more. She wrote in authentic but unconventional ways. She went against the grain. She refused to follow the rules. The power of her work was not always recognised by the establishment, but it is recognised by us. We honour her and the hundreds of other activists who gone before us.

bell hooks said that: “People are hungry for dissent. People are hungry for provocative voices that go to the heart of the matter.” (quote from Speaking Freely)

We have provocative voices.

We want to go to the heart of the matter.

My own journey as an activist began as a young child. I was born into a political family. My parents were Quakers and were involved in party politics and they created a home environment in which the status quo was questioned. My mum stood for parliament. My dad was a local councillor. They volunteered their time for causes to advance social justice. Housing and homelessness. Romanian orphanages. Pacifism. Environmentalism. Sustainability. Food poverty. The list goes on. The point is that I never fell into the trap of believing that politicians and other powerful people were right or that mainstream ways of thinking were the best way to proceed. Everything was open to question. It was OK to think differently.

I have found my own fire, my own rage, my own purpose. I have chosen where to put my energy and where to fight. I stand alongside other folk who are doing other things and I cheer them on, but their fight is not always the same as mine. We must choose what burns most brightly for us, what keeps us awake at night. My fight is about children and young people, about education and social justice, about the wild world.

I am curious about what lights other people up, what keeps them awake at night, what makes them do something to change the world.

Mirel, what is your fire and where did it come from?


What burns most brightly for me – when I feel into that question more, I do wonder. I feel like my fire, whatever it was, has burnt down to a smoulder. It would need more fuel than I have available to me right now, as well as some energetic fanning, for it to blaze brightly again. Honestly, at this time, I feel my task is simply to keep a single ember aglow until I have the resources available to kindle my fire again.

Right now, I need to rest and take stock of things. I need to regain a sense of perspective.

It’s all well and good talking about changing the status quo, for a more equitable society, blah-di-blah-di-blah, but much of change needs to happen from within. And I’m tired of trying so hard. It’s exhausting, simultaneously trying to affect change outside and in. I’m faced with living a kind of paradox – spurred on to enact some change in the world but not fully equipped to enact it either. Discovering at times I am motivated by very sense of heroism that I am trying to kick against. Becoming more resourced the more I don’t achieve what I set out to do. And somehow ending up affecting change when and where I least expect it, or not at all. And sometimes fizzling out.

I don’t mind all of that but it’s the negative internal monologuing that’s the biggest pain in the ass. The judging, the self-deprecation, the sense of being an impostor. Actually, that’s probably the most difficult thing to change – not “the world”, but the self the world I am trying to change created.

Let’s think about that for a second: The self that the world created is trying to change the world. Right.

Things have their own way of working out. Mystery has a sick sense of humour. For me, the work is just that – not the outcome, but the engagement. There is an irony to trying to make change happen whilst still being part of the problem. The best resource I have in this process is ownership of my own imperfection, curiosity around that, kindness around that. And perhaps my soul’s calling is simply to lean into life, embracing these paradoxes, with humility, and to develop a quality of steadfastness that will probably take me my whole lifetime, filling up my saddle bags with enough self-awareness and self-compassion for the ride.

Caitlin, what is your soul’s calling?


Caitlin Harrison: Unschooling parent, adventurer and abolitionist

Mirel, thank you.  My soul will get to itself in a moment.  I promise.  

First, I want to repeat your precise and poignant invitation to think about the fact that, “The self that the world created is trying to change the world.”  Yes!  Thank you!

I am so grateful for your delicious articulation. I recognise and experience this phenomenon as a whirlpool of responsibility, a swirling whirling within which my response-ability is formed and born as a direct effect of the oppressive structures to which I must respond.  And in this fluid, dynamic, cyclical and spinning space, my soul’s calling is to recognise moments to practice freedom, to respond as though I have been in-formed by the worlds I wish to inhabit, worlds defined by love, passion, peace, transformation, truths, honesty.  My soul’s calling is to humbly recognise, moment by moment, the ways in which my multiple intersecting identity privileges create illusory freedoms and ease that depend on the dehumanisation of “others.”  My soul’s calling is to practice, enact and embody disparate freedoms that are contingent upon everyone’s liberation.

I believe that part of my soul’s part is to play a role in making the world that formed me and us more visible, to expose and interrogate hegemony.  My soul feels called to share socialisation’s complexity while reducing our obsessions with individual culpability.  I believe this may free up energy for collective responsibility.

Sara, where do you locate your Self within the concept of responsibility, as it relates to social change?


Sara Paiola is a feminist, a mother, an associate tutor in law, and the co-founder of Free We Grow a child-directed, play based, educational space.

Caitlin, thank you. So your question to me: “where do I locate myself within the concept of responsibility, as it relates to social change?”

I feel responsible. The most important aspect of this for me is to be the change I want to see in the world. For supporting/making a social change. At the same time I know it is not down to me only so I do not feel guilty, if and when, I cannot do more. I do what I manage. I don’t like the neoliberal idea of individual/ised responsibility. Meaning indeed we are all responsible but for instance my recycling will not clean up the world. This individualised idea tends to divide people instead of creating solidarity and collectivity. Of course, for instance, I keep recycling as an individual but I think that voting for politicians that will struggle to bring some change in the country is more important than for instance recycling but not voting. Even though of course without proportional representation in the UK voters have less influence on the results and on how much social change happens.

I come from a very political/activist family who spoke about world issues a lot and as much as it was great in many respects it added some kind of heaviness to me as a child. So I think there is a balance between involving children in social change and letting them off the hook so to speak as it is more our responsibility as adults to change the world our children/the future children live in. They are not responsible for the mess we are in so why make them feel guilty/pressured. Then it will be their turn – to make social change – when they are ready. Maybe as a child I felt too responsible. I think children learn from imitation/modelling so if we adults are socially responsible – or socially conscious enough – they will most likely grow a social consciousness too. If we trust humans/children to be innately curious and self directed then there is no point to push them and expose them too much to social change issues as to me it seems a sign of us adults being anxious. Basically a sign of us adults not being able to control /tolerate our anxiety and feel the need to put pressure on people/children to become socially conscious – sometimes at the expenses of letting this passion grow naturally and letting them be.

For years I have worked in jobs that align with my beliefs in social change. Or, I volunteered in positions that align with my beliefs. I believe that in giving a better start to children they will create a better world so I have worked with children for many years (with refugee children and children who lived in refuges with their mothers who had experienced domestic and gender violence). A happier childhood can give the possibility to children to be more fulfilled adults and create a more peaceful and equal world.

Jenny “What does ‘love in action’ look like to you?


My activism in the world is exploring what ‘Living well, Unwell’ means, and what healing and inclusion looks like for those of us going through this world in bodies with chronic and ongoing symptoms.)

Sara, you wrote about responsibility, and then you have asked me ‘what does love in action look like?’

I suppose I’d start by thinking a bit about what that word ‘love’ encompasses – as it holds so, so much! And I think it gets used in a way that can feel idealistic, or vague and woolly, or naive. I know I can get irritated by hearing or reading a sort of ‘love is all you need’ perspective, that seems to ignore issues like social justice or power and privilege and oppression. So what does it mean to truly love? I think of the phrase ‘fierce compassion’ (not my words) and a sense that love can totally include fierceness and holding people to account. What does it mean to love someone who is so unhappy in their being and dysfunctional in their behaviour that they are seriously hurting others or causing damage? You ended your piece speaking about children. Parenting has been such a massive part of my life and it feels like a good place to learn from. Parenting consciously and presently has taught me about protectiveness, advocacy, boundaries, fear, respect, connection, safety, among other things. These aspects of love crop in my work around chronic illness too, in different ways…

Love in action looks like caring enough to step in but knowing when to step away and learning how to;

Love in action means being able to say no – and learning to hear no;

Love in action can be valuing others’ presence enough to make space to include them, whatever that means and even if we can’t relate to the things that are needed for that inclusion;

Love in action looks like being really clear about our own self-care – really radical self-care where we work to discern what our bodymind and soul need;

Love in action looks like coming back into our body and making peace with it – so that we can come into connection with others and with the world and the earth;

Love in action means courage – huge courage!

Basically, operating from a place of love means acting counter to most of society’s default ways of being – which come from a place of dominance and hierarchy and exclusion – and having a foundation of kindness, compassion, care, inclusion and valuing being as well as doing;

Love in action could be as fundamental as regulating our own nervous system, it could be as brave as challenging someone making offensive comments, it could be as expansive as taking the air fresheners out of our venue so that someone with chemical sensitivities can come to a group more easily;

And it means starting with ourselves, because we are part of the world and part of nature; the more we heal, the deeper that connection and the more our healing can impact others – and love in action is a feedback loop, I believe, where we are nourished too.

So, Sara, what does healing and self-care mean to you?


Sara Moon (she/they). Sara is an emerging Hebrew Priestess and co-founder of Miknaf Ha’aretz, a collective devoted to building wild, radical-diasporist multi-generational Jewish community in the UK. IG @jewdica

Thank you Jenny. This is a pretty live question for me as I emerge from a recent episode of a pretty serious depression. I’m still in a tender place and having to honour very intentional self-care routines to stay well. Such episodes are a part of my life and I have learnt to live in a way that enables me to straddle their interruptions through quite an elaborate scaffolding of self-care.

For me, healing and self-care is part of the justice we can make for ourselves in this broken world. Reclaiming that part of ourselves uncorrupted by the forces that have sought to belittle or destroy us. To re-build our souls.

Audre Lorde, the self-described ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’ shares,

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

I don’t nearly face the same struggles Audre Lorde did but this sentiment rings so true and is applicable for all of us trying to survive amidst hetero-normative, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. And for me, self-care really does feel like an act of self-preservation though it’s taken me many years to get to this knowing. Especially as someone fiercely committed to social change and all too aware of the urgency of many struggles we face. How can I focus on myself when so much needs fixing? How can I turn my back on struggles I’m committed to? I have found this a hard line to tread. But discovered the hard way that I’m no good to the movement burnt out and exhausted!

And yet, for me, the journey of self-care can also be slippery. It can be tricky to find the balance, to know what efforts will topple me, what I can bear. And as I wrap myself up in a state of wellness and resource, suddenly suffused with a sense of joy, even liberation, am I deluding myself, when still, the material conditions of the world are still so unequal?

I wonder a lot about how to stay in the joy of self-preservation without dispelling the rightful rage, without destroying the fire that will propel us to act for justice… I think this also goes back to what you said Jenny about ‘fierce compassion’ and part of ‘love in action’ being to hold people to account. I think this must include ourselves too. I have found myself in recent years taking so much care to stay well I have felt I have not held myself to account enough to do the activism the world needs me to do….

It is so counter-intuitive to ‘do nothing’ as the world burns and so many struggles are raging. But for me, the journey of healing & self-care must be embedded into our activism. Not something we stop activism to do. This is a part of the ‘pre-figurative’ politics I believe in. That how we build is what we build. That we go at right pace. That we ‘do’ activism in a way that’s conducive not just to our long-term health and mental wellness but to regenerative, juicy & creative activism too.

For me, these are some of the ways I am bringing my full power to my life and activism.

Sophie, what do you need to be in your power?


Writer and changemaker inspiring parents to empower our children – and ourselves – to shape a fairer, kinder, more sustainable future. Instagram: @raising_revolutionaries Facebook: @raisingrevolutionaries Twitter: @sophieblovett 


Thanks for this, Sara. It’s a pertinent question for me right now as I feel like lately I’ve been struggling to inhabit that place of power, struggling to bring my whole self to the work I want – need – to be doing. 

There’s a fine balance for me between pushing myself right to the edges of my capabilities to feel the fizz of energy that drives real and meaningful change, and sustaining that in a way that nourishes my soul’s energy rather than draining it. 

I am certain there is little power to be found in comfort, in doing the things I’ve always done in a way that becomes unconscious: unthinking, unintentional.

The biggest catalyst to action for me was the transition into motherhood: the greatest physical challenge of my life, and one laden with spiritual and emotional challenges too. It still carries me now, still takes me to new and surprising places. But I comfortably inhabit that role of ‘mother’ now, so I have been sensing that I need something new. 

And yet in seeking that there is still a place for ritual, particularly when it brings me out of my head and into my body.

I am recharged on a regular basis by the river, the icy waters searing my skin and cleansing my mind of the prickling anxiety that all too quickly takes over nowadays. There’s a clarity of purpose that comes in the minutes and hours that follow – it’s simultaneously familiar and unexpected. 

It’s not just that physical effect either: there’s something about immersing myself so viscerally in the natural world that reminds me of the ecosystem that I’m a part of, that is a part of me.

There’s something about that ecosystem that is an integral part of my power.

Being in nature – by the sea, in the woods, on the moor. Tuning into the turning of the earth and the moon, honouring the seasonal shifts both outside and within me. Learning new old rhythms to replace the old new ones foisted upon us by the patriarchy.

Recognising too that humans are a part of nature, a part of the ecosystem that challenges and sustains me. And that the right humans are the ultimate source of empowerment.

We are not supposed to do this alone. And it is exhausting to always have to fight to be understood. It is so resourcing to be buoyed up by the explosive energy of like minds meeting, to hold each other in a cocoon of shared values and together find that place of stretch.

And on that note, Hannah, the question I’d love to ask is  – have you found loving communities of resistance? 


Hannah is a mother, a daughter, a football playing lover of the sea, the woods, books, words, and radical thought and action.

The short answer is yes.

The more complicated answer is that I have been aware of them for at least half of my life, felt drawn to them, felt very firmly outside of them. Sure they were for others, not for me.

There’s a lifetime of being willfully left out behind that certainty. I’ve discovered over the past few years that the people and the spaces that were not for me, were exactly that: they were the people and spaces that were not for me. And that just because they were not, it did not mean that there were no spaces or people for me.

So I became brave. I put myself out there in the spaces I felt a draw to and have found that not only are there loving communities of resistance there, but that I have what feels like a welcome place in them. It can be hard to trust the acceptance and welcome when I am on my own and my doubts creep in. But the sense of community and belonging grows all the time.

They are not just loving communities of resistance, but supportive and nurturing.

The sense of belonging comes not from open arms and a loving landing space (though when that has been needed, it has been there, and thankfully so), but from feeling like my own self, my thoughts, my own offers of support are valued and a part of a growing wholeness.

I have a part within the communities I have found, and they have a part in what I have found within me. And so the communities grow while I grow. Or I do while they do. Communities aren’t really found, they’re continually grown, but I am glad to have found that I have space within communities that are made up of people wanting to grow a world that I want to live in.

Rachel, where does love feature in your life and work?


Rachel Musson is a teacher, writer, speaker, facilitator and thought-leader on regenerative education and holistic wellbeing in schools.

I really hear you stepping into your bravery. Sharing how nourishing being part of a loving community of resistance feels to you echoes strongly in my own landscape of inner growth and outer change. The process of being brave, being safe and being connected has allowed me to strengthen my work from within and without, whilst recognising my own sense of connection growing all of the time.

Connection, for me, is what love is and is all about.

Since leaving my teaching career in mainstream education and journeying (both literally and metaphorically) down a different pathway, I have spent a lot of the past decade exploring and twirling in the delicate dance between being and doing. Almost every step I have taken off the mainstream pathway has felt a step into something more nourishing, more rewarding, more natural, more energising, more connected.

Teaching, learning, writing, travelling and journeying across the world and into my inner landscape, I’ve met love in many guises. I’ve learned to welcome the invitation to deepen my own sense of being love in balance with the love I give and receive. Learning how to dance lightly in this space has allowed me to strongly feel into the simple, universal power and value of connection.

Life’s logic springs through connection. We may be forgiven for believing that we’re all individuals out here doing our thing, but our singular lives only flourish because of all of the invisible webs of connection happening out of sight, allowing each of us to thrive. Like the mycelium networks in the soil, we’re all of us sharing, caring, feeding and resourcing each other, all of us part of infinite webs of connection, all of us thriving through a conscious and unconscious network of care. Of love. 

Birthing a social enterprise focused on regenerating education for a thriving world has allowed me to land in a place wherein I am both practising and sharing the core values of love and connection on a daily basis. Through my work I am helping young people, educators, school communities, I’m working to help stitch back together the places and spaces many of us have become separated – from ourselves, from each other and from the rest of the natural world.  My work is enabling and allowing people to remember how (and why) to love again: how to love ourselves, how to love each other and how to love the rest of the natural world.

I am living the ethos, values, offerings and focus of my work within my own life by living a life built on the foundations of conscious care: of self-care, people-care and earth-care. My life and work weave themselves together in a balance of being the change and doing the change by remembering how to be fully human and celebrate the interconnectedness of life. I feel I have landed fully into my soul’s purpose in a way that both nourishes myself and others in the process.

Jo, what is really at the heart of you and your work?


Jo is working with bold adhd genius for paradigm, change to grow resilience for children and young people in the face of climate crisis and all that it brings.

Thank you for this question. It makes my heart sing and my belly squirm with excitement and discomfort. How can I find words to answer? Well, I can at least give it a good go!

At the heart of my work is a longing for life, love and peace. I see the pain of the world, the injustice, the destruction of life and I feel that pain in my own life, in my own body.

I am immersed in the study of human neurobiology, trauma, resilience and earth connection. I know what we need to live. I know how to solve climate change. I know what we need to live with respect and love on the earth into future generations. What a massively bold claim! This is at the heart of my work. I see what has gone wrong and I know how to put it right, and crucially, I am driven by urgency and longing to change the world.

My work has pretty much always been around supporting children and young people, to support their voice in the world, to advocate for their needs and to build networks of resourced adults who have the capacity to meet their needs. I have worked with bereaved children, then set up as a funeral director, put my heart and soul into creating community based unschooling projects, then trained many hundreds of education, health and social care professionals in understanding and meeting children’s basic needs for thriving.

At the heart of all that is the knowledge that childhood creates culture. It is not just that I want children to be happy, it is also that I know that everything an adult does and does not do, is rooted in their childhood, and that this in turn creates the systems that humans create. Warm care and love creates values of inclusivity and justice. Capitalism and colonialism depend on destroying this capacity to love and it is now destroying all life.

Now I am focussed on growing children’s resilience in the face of climate and social collapse. The stakes have never been so high. At the heart of all this is the sure and certain knowledge that humans need love to survive and to be able to honour the life of others. And the certainty that the systems of separation and domination that are the basis of our economic, political and social systems are stealing this from us and making us incapable of living fully.

So I see the connection between a mother, supported and valued by her community, smiling into the eyes of her baby, and the survival of life on earth. It is a direct link.

At the heart of my life and work is a longing to share the urgency of the change that is needed and to embody the qualities of clarity and compassion that is needed to make it happen. Love in action, together.

Emily, what are the most radical things you want to say to the world?


I am Emily, a mother/writer/designer/interior architect helping to take down the walls of oppressive systems brick by brick through de-schooling myself and asking awkward questions since 1983.

Thank you, Jo M, for your question and very moving piece “childhood creates culture” – I love and honour this.

In answer to the question, I will start with my reaction to the word radical. I feel like the word suffers from a bad reputation, and I initially let this construct get in my way. I read ‘radical’ and jumped to radicalised and thought extremism and the idea of the problems that came from fundamentalism rather than taking the positive perspective of the word ‘radical’. My subconscious walked me down the binary path that my conscious mind has been stepping away from and in this, I believe lies one answer to the question – I want to say to the world that humanity is not polaric and I feel this oppositional thinking is the cause of so much destruction, trauma and pain.

On a macro scale, the Earth has poles, creating a magnetic field and providing direction, which our Western post Enlightenment culture interprets as linear: north – south. So, we go from A to B in a linear fashion, often ignoring all the nuanced beauty in between. Yet, nature knows that the Earth is spherical, and the magnetic field creates a beautifully circular, all-encompassing spectrum.

On a meso scale, humanity has constructed the complications of ownership and dominance; have – have not. The fallout from this has created pretty much all the trauma humans live with and normalise, collectively and individually and as Jo M spoke about, this dominance has resulted in the separation from the Earth, from each other and I would like to add, from ourselves, wherein we find the micro scale.

The separation from ourselves is the (heart)breaking point. My radical position on this is that I want to have safe and consensual containers for everyone to express their deepest and darkest shadows, however radical or seemingly unacceptable they may be.

If adults can express this part of themselves, rather than be locked away, buried, suppressed under years of shame and conditioning, I believe people will be able to better accept their whole selves and love will ensue.

I have so much hope for the generation of children that witness this substantial healing. Their shackles will be so much less constricting, and their freedom will bring so much love.

So, in the Jo sandwich, I ask you Jo S: What practices do you use to help transform pain into power?


Jo Symes is the founder of which is an online inspiration hub exploring alternatives to conventional methods in education. “Progressive Education Group” on Facebook; @ProgEducat on Twitter/Insta/Fb page

Thanks Emily, what a great question. Before I answer it, just to give you some context, my pain comes from the trauma around my sons’ experiences of starting school. They both became fearful of school, their lights went out and they lost their love of learning. They were in pain and so I was in pain. It continues to break my heart how our education system fails to put mental health/wellbeing, social justice and children’s rights at the core.

There are three things that spring to mind when I think about how I work to transform this pain into power:

  1. Putting my energy into something positive.

To quote bell hooks:

“When we only name the problem, when we state complaint without a constructive focus or resolution, we take hope away. In this way critique can become merely an expression of profound cynicism, which then works to sustain dominator culture.”

So in my work, rather than simply focusing on the problems and the criticisms of the education system, I strive to focus on raising awareness of more human centred alternatives to mainstream, as well as showcasing innovations within the state sector to celebrate the work of pioneering educators.

I aim to raise the profile of alternatives to conventional methods in education a) to help families who need something different now and b), to inspire change within the mainstream.

This work involves trying to normalise ‘radical’ approaches. I agree with you Emily when you say that the word ‘radical’ suffers from a bad reputation. In trying to normalise ‘radical’ approaches – such as unschooling or democratic, self-directed education – I steer clear from terminology like ‘radical’, ‘extreme’, and even ‘alternative’. These words make educational approaches which have their roots in social justice and children’s rights sound outrageous, ‘for others’, and irrelevant to the mainstream. I work hard to normalise these approaches as they are not extreme at all, they are simply common sense when you think about how children naturally learn, neuroscience, traditional indigenous communities and how humans have evolved. It is the conventional school system that seems outrageous, extreme and unnatural when you really think about it.

  • Kindness. I think it’s important to try to be kind to all, even those with opposing views. In the spirit of trying to be the change we want to see, I don’t think we should shame or blame, and I don’t think it’s helpful to have a them and us culture and see people with opposing views as the enemy. Noone intentionally sets out to harm children or uphold outdated harmful practices.
  • Self care and community. The most important thing which keeps me going is connecting with like-minded people. My facebook group has been my lifeline really, along with the Freedom to Learn Forum which I attended a couple of years ago, as well as connections with other social entrepreneurs and changemakers. I am particularly grateful for this retreat and being part of the Write On Changemakers community. Community and connection is key for me.

So, over to you Jai, how do you stay motivated as an activist?


Jai Breitnauer, journalist, mother, disability rights campaigner and daily adventurer. @Breitideas on Twitter

At one point in my life it was my choice to be an activist. But it is no longer true that I can choose. Activism is simply how I exist and my motivation is the quest for lived, equitable experience.

I grew up in a nice white family, in a nice white town, with all the assumed privilege that implies. I was the first in my immediate family to go to university, something my parents believed was about furthering my education to get a better job, or to gain more respect. I have no doubt that they enjoyed, and perhaps still do enjoy, telling people I have a degree and an MA from a well-regarded establishment.

I’d flirted with activism before university, but it was during the six years I spent studying that I really found the ability to question the world and my place in it. Before that, I had assumed being academic meant knowing all the answers. University taught me that academic rigour is having the confidence to acknowledge you don’t have any answers, and to seek them out with the help of others.

Still, as a young adult, I was able to pick and choose my causes. I joined the Socialist Worker movement, I protested the war in Iraq. I was part of an occupation relating to data sharing and breaches, and I joined numerous letter writing campaigns. All these causes were important to me but I wasn’t directly affected by the outcomes. I was an activist because it felt like it was my duty, to use my voice and my platform to speak for those who couldn’t. It was this feeling, this belief that motivated both my career in journalism and working in communications with not for profits.

It wasn’t until I had children that activism became daily life. It wasn’t until I became a mother that activism became my lived experience. That inequity became a reality for me that I needed to fight to live.

The beginning was childbirth, and the lies women are told to get them into hospital and on pain relief. The next reality was the hypocrisy of immigration rules. As my partner, willing to work but bound into unemployment by his visa, stood on the precipice of deportation, I cradled our child and wondered how we would pay the mortgage without him. Meanwhile the taxpayer continued to whine about having to support mothers like me while also whining about jobs for the British. The next target then, was the patriarchy, the root cause of the issues our family had been facing. I’ve always identified as a feminist, but once I truly understood the damage the patriarchy does to men, and I could align myself with the progression of all genders through the breaking down of misogynistic frameworks, I found myself free to make these arguments with clarity. The natural progression of anti-patriarchal work, is anti-capitalist work, and that is the moment you realise everything is connected.

But even when I am not actively activist, I am still an activist. My existence, as a neurodiverse woman, is an act of activism in its own right. And daily I fight for the supports needed so my autistic children can equitably access education, healthcare, leisure facilities … I fight not just for changes in welfare and statutory provisions, but in the necessary change to the social narrative that is needed to provide true accessibility. I don’t want people to ask what they can do to help effect positive change, I want people to understand they need help to change themselves.

This is the truth I have to speak simply to live and breathe. It isn’t my choice but it is my privilege.

So, J, what truth do you need to speak, and why are you the woman to speak it?


Unschooling mum of 2

The act of speaking my truth out loud and allowing others to hear or read it is terrifying for me.  I am immediately flooded with thoughts of my voice being unworthy in a sea of voices which are already out there.  There are already so many ideas, opinions and stories that it can be overwhelming at times to hear them all so what possible value can my truth offer? 

But I am slowly beginning to see that hearing the truths of others can be a balm, a deep comfort, it has certainly been the case for me in times of deep pain.   And this is why I am willing to speak my truth, in the hope that even one person may find some comfort and hope.

As a new mother, engulfed with advice, opinions and judgments from all angles and not knowing who to believe and what to do, I felt lost, lonely and unsure of myself – for almost 3 years.  The ‘perfect mother’ that I tried to be and the ‘perfect life’ that I tried to create was not the life that my son needed.  He resisted at every turn.  He spoke his own truth loudly and clearly.  It took me a while to hear it, and it was when my daughter was born that I could no longer ignore it.  I broke down, I felt deep pain and it was the hardest and best thing that ever happened to me.  I am eternally grateful to my son for this act.

I now know that the deep pain that had unravelled me was caused by a lack of freedom.  As a stay at home mother, I had a role in society and I knew that it was highly judged but not valued and so I tried harder and harder to convince people of my worth.  But it never worked.  I was put in a box and I needed to stay there and I didn’t dare express all of the frustrations that this brought up in me.

And then I began to look around and see this story repeated over and over again with other mothers, everywhere I looked, throughout history and all around me.  And then my scope widened and I began to see the effects of a lack of freedom everywhere, I couldn’t unsee the effects that it had on people.  In those closest to me, those out in the wider world and in the stories of those who came before us.  It was terrifying. Where freedom was lacking, no matter on how small a scale, I saw a missed chance for people to be their whole selves and when we can’t be our whole selves, then who are we?  This seemed to me to be the cause of so much of people’s pain.  How had I never noticed this before?

With the support of many wonderful people, mostly mothers themselves and this new realisation, I reclaimed myself and started to create a new structure for our family.  One that was built on freedom, freedom for each of us to express ourselves fully.  This thread of freedom is one I now weave into my life.  It guides my decisions and my actions everyday and I now see many inspiring people all around me doing the same and the incredible things that stem from this. This finally brings me great peace and hope.  This is at the heart of my work now and in the future.  This is my truth.

And I want to ask you now Sophie, what is really at the heart of you and your work?


At the heart of me and my work is divine spirit. That is what I believe is at our core, and it is my reverence for this, that moves me to persist against all odds. It is life force. Pure light. A pool of it sits at our heart’s centre, and spans through our veins like rivers, streams and tributaries throughout our whole body. To our genitals, to our toes, to the tips of our fingers and to the tip of the nose. It is what makes us animate, what gives us life, where sound comes from. It’s desire is to run through us, down and into the earth, through the soles of our feet, or our asses, or whatever is closest to the ground.

And from above, from our heads, it wants to shoot up, into the sky. Into somewhere that feels like home, up there in the untouchable universe. A collective space, a collective pool, a place that feels safe and known, all embracing. A place from which we all come and all return. High high up in the sky, beyond anyone’s reach. Beyond anyone’s physical reach, that is.

We each have a birth right as a human creature on this planet to fully express ourselves in our divine glory. This is what I believe. And I want to see that right realised for each and every one of us. We are all needed. We are plants that want to grow, and we should be able to do so. To grow into the gnarly and/or smooth, ragged and/or lean, great and/or light potential brilliance that is embedded in us just like how a seed holds its own code to become manifest in its full glory.

Given, the sun, water, earth and air/loving care that it needs. Given the space that it needs, the cogent environment that knows what it is, that treats it like a plant and not like a fucking robot.

So the heart of my work, is to bring, or in the very least, not obstruct, those things: the light, the water, the nutrients of the soil, the fresh space and air. To bring the loving care. To hold the space for myself every day, and for others as much as I can manage.

Creating radical changes in education … is it more effective to work ‘within the system’ or innovate from ‘the outside’? A dialogue between Max Hope and Sophie Christophy

Authors: Max Hope & Sophie Christophy

Max Hope and Sophie Christophy share an aspiration to radically change the education system, but the journeys that brought them together have been completely different. Max started out as a youth worker and spent a decade as a university academic, researcher and lecturer and writer before becoming Director of Rewilding Education and Co-Lead of The Lodge. Sophie is a feminist and children’s rights activist, an unschooling parent and Co-Founder of The Cabin and The Lodge, two self-directed and consent-based settings for home educated children. They are activists and partners in work and in life. In this exchange of emails, they explore whether it is more effective to work within the system or to innovate from the outside and unpick some of the painful decisions that they – and others – must make when deciding where to position themselves and put their energies.

This dialogue follows on from a previous one about Rewilding and Unschooling.

Max: I want to radically transform education. I have spent many years trying to do this. Sophie, you know this, and we share so many of the same values and visions about how we want the world to be. But our histories of how we have done our work are different, and I’d love to dive into some of the debates that we have had about a) what is the most effective way to try and ignite and inspire change; and b) what personal choices we have made – and are still to make – about how we want to use our ‘wild and precious lives’.

My journey started as a youth and community worker for a radical charity that worked with young people who were on the margins of society. That job did not feel like I was ‘in the system’ at all, even though most of the young people I worked with had been involved in (or excluded from) mainstream school. After fifteen years, I left this job and started a PhD. I felt burnt out and exhausted from listening to young people who had been so battered by the education system, and I wanted to get to the root of the problem. What was going wrong with mainstream education? How could it change in ways that would be more inspiring, engaging, and useful for young people? What could be learnt from some of the more radical types of education that were happening in ‘alternative’ settings?

My decade as a university academic felt like I was trying to change the system from within. I spent time in mainstream and alternative schools. I worked with teachers and ex-teachers. I created projects which engaged with students and tried to support them to have increased agency in their schools. And the university itself, like it or not, was a mainstream institution. There were rules and procedures and formal outcomes. I was teaching, researching, and writing within this mainstream system, and trying to push at the boundaries of what I could ‘get away with’ so that I could practice in the way that I wanted. Eventually, I left, and although I miss some of the work that I was able to do, I certainly do not miss the stress and strain of being in that system.

Sophie, we met through Phoenix Education, a charity that has big ambitions about transforming education. At that point, you were home educating your children and had already set up The Cabin. You were firmly rooted outside the system. You were a pioneer. I was still inside the system, working for the university and undertaking research in and with schools. I was excited about all the amazing stuff that was happening outside the system but was still deeply committed to putting my energy into changing the mainstream.

Our lives have both changed. I would love to know where you stand now. What, for you, is the most effective way to operate? Is it as an innovator within the system or as a pioneer outside of mainstream? And what does this mean for you personally right now?

Sophie: For me personally, it is about finding ways to be a change maker that are manageable and sustainable in the context of my own life. Consistent, persistent effort, that can last a lifetime is part of my theory of change, and it influences the work that I do, how I use my time and energy, and how I care for myself along the way. As you said – when we met, it was as I joined the Board of Trustees at Phoenix. I was at the time and still am an unschooling, home educating parent. I’d just co-founded the Cabin the year before and was a few cycles in running the Consent-Based Education courses. I’d spent years before that running community-based projects creating spaces for children’s rights, establishing home ed community in my local area, and prior to that nature based space in the woods for families with young children in London.

I was already writing – a blog, and for the local paper and a local families magazine, about children’s rights in the family and raising awareness of home education as choice. In 2014-15 I had tested out the potential for making change via mainstream politics, by standing as Green Party candidate in the General Election. I had done some speaking and workshops, on change making and the political and personal transition from patriarchy to consent-based culture. I was deep in the experience of motherhood and parenting discourse. In all of this I was also doing my best to love and support my children in staying connected to and in-tune with themselves, to grow in a way that nurtured them and met their needs. That’s no small feat in the dominant culture in which we live. 

I think what I’m trying to say by sharing this is that I was in a period of experimentation, learning, agitation, and high activity. I was desperate at times, and up against deadlines such as the school starting age that put pressure on my activism and work, but I was determined. I always wanted to do right by my own children but not only them. I wanted to do right by all children and for society to change. I wanted social and environmental justice not some time but now, and I was serious. But I was also overextending myself and out of what felt like necessity in a burn out cycle that was not good. 

You asked about whether it’s more effective to innovate from inside or outside the system. I would say it’s most effective to start innovating from the exact place of where you are right now. To first experiment with yourself. To learn and understand as much as you can about your own values, and to try to live them in every small moment, action and thought. To understand your strengths and skills, to understand your gaps for learning and do that learning. And then use those skills, that learning, and yourself, to be impactful in your exact current circumstances. Wherever that is. And test that as far as you can go, until you know it’s time to start trying to do something else. What do you think?

Max: My drive for wanting to transform the education system didn’t come through my own experience of having my own children. I didn’t have to make a personal choice about whether to put my own children into school or to choose which school might be the most suitable option. Would I have been prepared to move house? Would I have home educated? Would I have set up an alternative like The Cabin? It is all hypothetical because my life’s path did not lead me to having to make those choices or to act from that place.

Instead, I encountered dozens and dozens of other people’s children in my role as a youth worker. I learnt so much from them and from my experiences of trying to develop innovative ways of re-engaging them with learning again. We had to create exciting, relevant, and fun activities that did not, under any circumstances, remind people of being ‘at school’. What I learnt, and this felt important, was that it was really not that difficult to find ways of engaging even the most ‘hard-to-reach’ young people if the relationships between us were respectful, genuine and trustworthy. Young people could smell inauthenticity. They knew when they were being conned. And, by contrast, when they were trusted to self-direct their own process and make their own decisions, they rose to the challenge and were eminently capable to doing so.

To me, this was not hard to understand. It was not rocket science.

I continued to be shocked that the mainstream education system continued to get it so wrong. Year after year, young people would tell me the same stories. Young people being bullied for being gay, sometimes by their own teachers. Being disciplined for wearing the wrong shoes. Kicked out for talking back. Forced to do certain subjects because they were not in the right group to choose other options. Made to stay in isolation booths for the whole day. On and on and on.

That was in 2007. That was where I was at in my own life. Tired and frustrated and angry.

It felt like a deeply personal move to leave youth work and head into a university. This was not about my career or professional journey or anything else. This was about wanting to make an impact in the lives of children and young people. I genuinely believed that this was my best chance to do that, and I never lost sight of that aspiration.

Sophie, you say that “it’s most effective to start innovating from the exact place of where you are right now.” I agree – and I don’t. I agree in that we can start from where we are at, whether that be as a parent, a youth worker, a policy maker, a politician. We can all do something from the place we are, and it gives us a sense if agency to know that. We can all do something – and we can often do more than we imagine we can. So yes, I do agree with that.

Where I disagree is that I also think that we can choose to position ourselves in a place where we believe we might have the greatest impact. I can choose to position myself in a university, a school, a policy institute, a picket line, a home education setting. I can be an anonymous blogger, a teacher, a journalist and so on.

We don’t all get to make the same choices.

This isn’t a competition.

But we get to make our own choices from our own unique circumstances.

Right now, I am choosing to co-lead The Lodge with you, the new setting which flows on from The Cabin. This is outside of mainstream and is aimed at home educated young people aged 10-12. This positions me as ‘outside of the system’ and I am finding it energising, refreshing, and healing. I love it. I am still holding an ambition that our practice might, in one way of another, influence mainstream practice but I am no longer fixated on trying to make this happen.

When I look at Two Loops Theory – which you introduced me to whilst we were at Phoenix – I can plot my own journey. As a youth worker, I was in a ‘hospicing’ role in that I was picking up casualties from a broken system and trying to help them get through. At the university, I was trying to innovate within the system itself, whilst also trying to shine a light on the work of pioneers in the hope that it would influence the mainstream. I am now more removed from the mainstream and less preoccupied with it and am instead focussing on pioneering practices which take place in the new paradigm, outside of the system.

I find it more energising and less exhausting to be outside of the system. There is a breeze out here and it feels hopeful and optimistic. We are creating and inhabiting the world that we want to see.

But Sophie, sometimes I also feel guilty.

Most children and young people are within the system. They cannot get out and play with us over here.

If we want to change things for a larger number of young people, don’t we have a responsibility to try and change the mainstream?

Sophie: You feel guilty? Why do you feel guilty? You haven’t done anything wrong or anything to feel guilty for as far as I am aware. I don’t feel guilty. I’m not going to carry the guilt of a system that was never built to respect children. That guilt deserves to sit elsewhere. I don’t feel guilty for making difficult choices at personal cost including extreme experiences of loneliness and isolation at times, in order to do what I thought was right for the health and well being of my children, just because I couldn’t extend that same opportunity to all children. I sure have tried to open as many doors as possible to other folk to make their own choices that included not participating in schooling. To create community other than school, which is one of if not the main draws of school for many people – a sense of belonging and the chance to be around other young people.

The fucked thing about this is the level of denial around the issue itself. It’s hard for people to stare in the face of the coercive and controlling dynamic of traditional schooling, the cruel methods of behaviour management, the marginalising and degrading of young people that don’t ‘fit’ for whatever reason, and let that sink in when they are part of it or dependent on it. Perhaps that comes as a reaction to the scale of the issue and the seemingly insurmountable challenge to create meaningful and lasting change, the sense of powerlessness that is felt. Some of it is because the system as it stands, despite being fundamentally unethical, still meets many needs of the people that are in it, and of parents and young people, that are hard to meet otherwise. The relationship between teachers, families and the education system continues, even into depths of unhealth and dysfunction. Each person propping it up in their own way.

Writing about this has made me feel upset inside. It provokes pain in me which comes out in harsh and confrontational tone. And that is because it is a painful thing, that just keeps ticking on, and on, year after year. You asked if we have a responsibility to try to change the mainstream, and I would say yes, we absolutely do. Not out of guilt, because I believe we are working hard and doing our best and shouldn’t take on guilt for that which is not our doing. But because everything else is peripheral, and what we ultimately want to see is widespread change and transformation, and for that to happen mainstream culture has to be moved. How that happens though is through a radical tapestry, a patchwork, of many, many activated change makers, all throughout the Two Loops Model. So the key is to reflectively position yourself always into the place in that process in which you can have your own maximum effect. And the best way to do that in my opinion, beautifully, is to inhabit consent-based and self-directed principles, in order to navigate to the right spot to be lined up for the unique contribution that you are designed to make.

What do you think the mainstream needs most from those of us innovating and experimenting outside of its limitations?

Max: Phew. I can feel an exhalation and a sigh of relief.

When you say that ‘the guilt deserves to sit elsewhere’, I can totally see that. I did not create the mainstream system and I do not do anything to deliberately reinforce it. To the contrary, I have worked to challenge it and change it, and now I am putting my energy into the creation of innovative new models which are healing and restorative. Isn’t it interesting how my default is to somehow feel responsible for harm and damage which is not mine and which I cannot control? I wonder if that is part of the how the system upholds and replicates itself? How many teachers and other educators are within the mainstream because they feel responsible for trying to make it better, for reducing the harm that such a system inevitably inflicts?

Now I have stepped away from directly trying to change the mainstream, I feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm to exploring the alternatives from the inside-out. Actually, when I say ‘alternative’, it might give the impression of ‘different but equal’. That is not what I mean. It’s not like ‘dairy milk and alternative milk’. Or ‘conventional medicine and alternative medicine’. What we are investing all our time and energy into creating is not simply an alternative. It is a new paradigm. We must find some way of explaining that in a more convincing way. Sometimes, alternative is better, and we need to be bold about that.

What do I think the mainstream needs most from us? First, I think that people in mainstream need to be respected and supported because many of them are genuinely doing their best within a system that works against them and their own values. Next, I think that we need to encourage mainstream folk – especially leaders and policy makers – to radically rethink their educational philosophy and values. What I mean I that it is not enough to simply tinker with the system, to make incremental changes, to go for small improvements. The scale of the change that we need is far bigger than that, and it needs to happen quickly. We need to rethink our whole concept of education and ask some searching questions about: a) what are schools even trying to achieve anyway? b) how can schools be reconstructed so that they are underpinned by a deep respect and trust in children and young people? c) how can teachers and other adults be in honest, authentic, and open relationships with one another and with children and young people?

This is, of course, where the role of schools and learning communities which operate within the ‘new paradigm’ come into play. Mainstream folk will often struggle with answering the questions I have outlined above because they simply cannot imagine how things could be different. In my experience, they tend to say things like, ‘this sounds great, but it would never work in practice’, or ‘it might work for certain kids but not for the ones that I have to teach’. We need to be able to hold up real-life, practical examples as case studies. We need to show them the new paradigm so that they can start to dream differently about their own settings and their own practices.

What would you say to a teacher in a mainstream setting who was choosing to stay there but also wanted to bring in consent-based and self-directed practices? I would love to know whether you think this is even possible, and if so, what your words of advice might be?

Sophie: I would say to them that it’s like beating a drum. But first, there is a need for people to be open to learning. To letting go, opening up, and being willing to learn something new from other folk actually doing this practice. Egos need to go to the side, and they need to be willing to admit what they do and don’t understand, and what they do and don’t need to work on to have integrity and authenticity in this work.

If they are willing to do that, and are committed to change, they can find out what their space of change and opportunity is in their lives and places of work, and then they need to start beating this new practice like a drum. Like a heartbeat. A strong, regular beat, with integrity, with commitment, with consistent repetition. It’s OK if the beat is quiet and light to start off with, but it needs to start. There needs to be a high level of conviction because this practice is standing against the tide of the dominant culture of school. Like trying to keep your footing standing in the middle of a river swollen and rushing with some kind of downpour. So they need to think about what they need and what they can do to protect and withstand that.  

Then you start to beat your drum in a determined space. What I mean by that is you try to create a space that is separate to and different from the rest, whilst still within that place. Call it a club if you want, a society, an extra, or a designated part of your week, but it must be marked as different to the rest, with its own set of ways. This is key to the new culture having a chance of integrity and surviving. Once you get you drum beating and the culture rolling, it is contagious. I have no doubt in that. It’s like you can’t unsee what you have seen – it’s hard to accept coercive control and dominator culture when you can feel and know that something else is possible, that it is a choice and not necessary.

So, the key is to getting it going and digging in. Understand why you are doing it, understand and believe in how important it is. Understand it as an ethical imperative and the right next step. There needs to be pride in this work, pride, and strength. And then you’ve got to keep beating that drum for as long as you can.

And there has to be an acceptance that there will be break down as part of this process. Transitions and change hurts and it requires facing up to things including dark and painful truths. So be ready for difficult and painful situations, within yourself, as a practitioner, and in your situation with others. Have a strategy for how you are going to deal with that, how you will process it so that it doesn’t trash what is happening.  Dominant systems try to protect and maintain themselves, so you need to have the resolve to be ready to deal with that.

I recently got a steel tongue drum. It’s healing. This drum of this practice is healing too.  But healing journeys bring up all kinds of things, including pain and trauma that needs to be processed and released.

What would be your go to first thing when working with someone in the mainstream system? What do you think the first step is in supporting them in this transition?

Max: The first thing?

For me, the burning core is about relationships between teachers and students. Some call it student voice. Others call it agency. It’s all kind of things, all wrapped together.

I would want to invite mainstream teachers into a conversation about the connections they have with students in their classes. We know, for sure, that small things really matter to students. Remember their names. Pronounce their names correctly. Use their preferred pronouns. Look directly at them. Smile at them. Connect with them as human beings, and more than that, as equals. Be interested. Ask them what they think. Listen to them. Care. Pay attention. Do whatever you can to respond to what they tell you. Do not assume that they all think the same thing. Do not assume that they are consenting because they haven’t said otherwise. Think about whether there are ways in which you can develop threads of authentic connection with them whereby they can start to feel seen, known, understood. Trust them wherever and whenever you can.

This may seem small, but this stuff really matters.

In your Consent-Based Education course (CBE course), you talk about Covey’s circle of concern and circle of influence. This makes a lot of sense here. Mainstream teachers have many things that concern them, but they get overwhelmed with the size of the task in radically transforming education. You know this. They get exhausted and they get lost in the problem.

Sometimes they think they have no control and no influence, but this is not true. Even people in the most difficult of circumstances have choices to make.

When people get overwhelmed by all the things in the wider circle of concern, they can feel helpless and hopeless and burnt out. I have been in this place myself and I still work hard to not fall back into it. It is not a healthy place to be, but more than that, it is also not an effective place from which to try and be a radical practitioner. As you said earlier, ‘the key is to reflectively position yourself always into the place in that process in which you can have your own maximum effect.’

For some people, being in the mainstream and working from that space of influence is a deliberate choice, and it can be a powerful place to influence change. I am grateful to all the folk who are choosing to position themselves in schools, in universities, in colleges and in other formal settings. There is no doubt that we need good people – radical people – to choose to be there. These folk are often hidden to the wider world as they are just doing their own things in their own places, frequently hidden from view.

But Sophie, where are you? What are your reflections on the place where you can have maximum effect, and does it help to circle back to Two Loops Theory in exploring this? You introduced me to this theory, and I am really into it right now as I think it is a brilliant frame for exploring these types of questions. Over to you.

Sophie: I think Two Loops theory is great. Not only because it can help people to identify where they sit in the process of change, but also because it clearly shows this process as a paradigm shift, with all that that entails. The old paradigm, and the care that needs to happen there as it descends. The walk out folk – those setting away from the old paradigm to investigate and innovate the new – and the ‘grey zone’ that they inhabit as they unlearn, unfold, deschool, deconstruct, reform, restore, and create the new paradigm. I love how Debbie Frieze talks about what is needed in this process also, around support and connections. Consent-based education is both an alchemy for this change and the change itself.

For me, my main place of residence in the Two Loops Theory is as deep into the new paradigm as possible. Inhabiting it, living it, breathing it, being immersed in it, in the practice, in the life. Making it normal life. This is how the new paradigm comes into being anyway. By being it, it becomes manifest. The more folk that make it to that place, the more along the process things become, the more we move through the diffusion of innovation process. The stronger, more robust and capable of carrying the transition the new paradigm becomes. I’m in deep, with good reason. My heart, and body beats that drum, and it’s what gives me integrity in my work and what helps me be of use to others and to create culture in community. I’m in the core. Your work exploring education through the lens of rewilding, and self-healing through nature based experiences, has inspired and been very permission giving to me to explore and use metaphors and examples from nature to make sense of and explain myself and my work.  I came across the word ‘caldera’ recently, it’s the bowl created after a volcano partially collapses after eruption. That’s where I want to be. I want it to hold me too, so I can rest, and feel held myself.  

From that place I can hold the frame and shape of the new way. It makes me useful to others, including in the mainstream, because such a solid grounding enables folk to trust in what is a precarious process. It’s stable. And that’s what people need when they are stepping through this – some kind of sense of anchoring in an intangible process of power transformation and reconceptualization of so much that is believed to be true. It makes me useful to mainstream leaders and folk, and those building outside. I hope it makes me a touchstone, that can feed oxygen to so much change.

I also know that no one sits in the process alone. The change is ecosystemic, and my ability to have an impact is massively supported and enabled by relationship, collaboration and community with folk inhabiting their own space in the process. I hope I can be a strong heartbeat, alongside other beats and commitments to build the new.

How about you? I love collaborating with you.

Max: I love collaborating with you too.

You are right that achieving the type of change we are striving for needs to be ecosystem. It won’t be achieved through just one person or one group of people. We need to simultaneously put pressure on the dominant system across multiple fronts. This means we need to share our visions and practices, to be willing to collaborate, to build a sense of solidarity and unity, and to keep communicating.

As for me, what will I be doing? Where will I position myself? How will I use my one wild and precious life?

Right now, I am playing with the idea of being a rebel academic alongside being a practitioner and an activist. A prac-ademic. A pr-activist. Playing with the words. Mucking about. I don’t know what words to use really. What I mean is that I want to integrate all that I know and all that I am and bring it all together. I don’t want to save one set of skills for one context and keep them separate from another. I want to feel whole.

My decade as an academic was super useful for what I do now. My time as a youth worker shapes my perspective every day. My experience as part of our home educating family adds such a lot of depth to the things that I already knew and believed, and also challenges me to think and think and think again. Life is rich and learning is lifelong. You know this. Life is about reflecting and changing and pushing and challenging. Always trying. Always fighting.

I don’t know whether I will choose to return to the mainstream. I suspect not. I am not saying that I won’t work with folk in the mainstream, or even that I won’t do shorter-term pieces of work for mainstream institutions. But full-time? I can’t imagine making a decision that would put me back into that energy. I will gladly work alongside folk in the mainstream but I don’t want to be there myself.

The place I stand right now feels good, and healthy, and sustainable. Being freelance, running my own projects, working with people like you, co-leading The Lodge. This is a good life, a wild life, a precious life. I’ll take it.

The revolution is just a t-shirt away

Author: Max Hope

I watch Queer Eye. Unashamedly. I love it. These five queer folk, travelling around the world, building connections and changing lives. I know that it’s Netflix and it’s commercial and it’s a very sell-able show, but it’s also really captivating. Watch it if you are not yet a convert.

Anyway, t-shirts. So Karamo Brown, one of the Fab 5, is often pictured in a t-shirt with some sort of slogan on it. I often don’t know what they mean, but they intrigue me. I pause the show to google the t-shirt and I usually learn something I didn’t know.

Stacey. Kamala. Michelle. Thank You.

Trans People Belong.

Mental Health Matters.

Black people, I love you.

Black history is more than slavery.

Three words. Four words. Five words. Six words.

Is this activism?

Karamo is described on Wikipedia as a television host, reality television personality, author, actor and activist. Are wearing slogan t-shirts a form of Karamo’s activism? How deliberate is the act? Having watched all the Queer Eye shows to date, I believe it is totally deliberate. This man does not leave anything to chance. He has an image, and a well cultivated one at that. He is the ‘culture guy’ and often works with people on matters to do with belonging, identity, connection, self-esteem, relationships. He knows what he is doing. And so – for me – wearing these t-shirts is a calculated move.

I’ve looked him up. Karamo  has recently launched a whole t-shirt collection. He is selling these to the public and giving 100% of the profits to charity. Is this a way of making money for the causes that he is passionate about? A way of influencing fashion? Or a way of making a point?

Whatever he is doing, it is working. For me anyway.

Karama has reminded me of my all-time favourite Billy Bragg song. The lyrics of Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards include the line: “So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a t-shirt away” [they also say “in a perfect world, we’d all sing in tune, but this is reality so give me some room” – but dwelling on that will take me off on a tangent and so I will return to t-shirts].

I am reminded of my youth. I am reminded of the times when I would wear slogan t-shirts. Where are they now? Where are my t-shirts?

Time to get some more.

What about you?

If you could make a point in just four, five or six words, what would it be?

*This was first published in January 2022 at

From Martin Luther King to Greta Thunberg … and a bit of Katniss Everdeen

Author: Max Hope

Words are powerful.

Words are, as Albus Dumbledore says, ‘our most inexhaustible source of magic’.

And yet words are not always in written form. Words can be spoken, and some of the most notable changemakers use the power of the spoken word to great effect. Martin Luther King had a dream. Greta Thunberg told us that our house was on fire. Nelson Mandela said that “it is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Words and powerful. And persuasive. And they can change the world.

So why is Katniss Everdeen on the list? She is a fictional character. The Hunger Games didn’t change the world. Or did it?

In The Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler alert here), Katniss Everdeen is, through circumstance, cajoled into becoming a revolutionary and a figurehead for the rebels. Through her forced involvement in the barbaric ‘Hunger Games’, she became known as ‘the girl on fire’, and she is later used by the rebels to make propaganda films to spur on the Districts in their battle against President Snow and the all-powerful Capitol. The slogan “fire is catching, and if we burn, you burn with us” is instrumental is turning the tide against the violent dictatorship and eventually, bringing down the regime. So far, so fictional.

This is where it gets real.

The symbol of solidarity that was used in the Hunger Games books – a three fingered salute – was first used in Thailand in 2014 as a symbol of resistance after the military coup. It was later banned. But the use of the symbol has become widespread, as just a few months ago, the same salute was used by those resisting the military takeover and arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. The symbol is now divorced from the books and has a status of its own. It is no longer fictional. It is real.

Words are powerful. Speeches are powerful.

Novels, stories, poems, blogs, speeches, songs, journalistic articles, websites, podcasts, academic papers, non-fiction books. These are methods and mechanisms for sharing ideas. Platforms for sharing words. They can all – in various ways and at different times – change the world.

This is a call to changemakers.

Who are you? What do you want to change? How, for you, could the world be a better place?

This is a call to action.

It’s time to write some words.


Albus Dumbledore is Head Teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his words were created by J.K. Rowling.

Katniss Everdeen was created by Suzanne Collins. Watch her ‘fire is catching’ scene here:

*This post was originally published in October 2021 on