Identity work in a complex world

I continue through this process, murky and hazardous, yet emergent and directional.

As difficult as it is to wade through the swamp of your own neuroses, to become immersed in your deepest anxieties yet again.

The relief of breaking free of yet another entanglement of the mind.

Liberation, presupposes oppression, the suffering of being restrained.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I can’t not do it. It is just the way my mind works, grabbing at loose threads, tugging them further, examining the ties.

What usually breaks it for me is uncovering the link to a deeper core belief. An aspect of my narrative, the story I tell myself about who I am and why I am the way I am. Once I follow my thoughts, my reactions, the patterns in the things that are triggering me, setting me off, I stay with the thoughts and feelings, watching as my sub-conscious surfaces the connections. Until the construction of the story becomes clear. I learn about the author and the narrator, the characters and what I thought they wanted from me.

Like a silent photographer waiting for wildlife to emerge from the bush. My awareness sits waiting for my thoughts. However, I myself (my ego that is) am the bait, that the photographer didn’t set or see, getting hooked and struggling to break free many times over before being able to step far enough away to see the source of the trap. The image, an understanding.

A practice.

Training the mind to notice its own patterns.

Noticing where your thoughts and feelings are coming from, the story that they form.

Noticing the ego wanting to hold on to hurt and pain.

Noticing the desire to be free of the pain.

Realising the ego is the only thing causing your self this suffering.

Again.

Again I learn this lesson but this time it fuels me back into action, back to the work of knowing who I am, of exploring my freedom in this world that is struggling to know itself. A planet pushing back on the industrialisation of the so called ‘developed’ world. To be free of the arrogant tyranny of paternalistic colonialism and capitalism. The bullish, foolish nature of toxic masculinity, control, money, power…

And again.

I have hope. And faith. I believe in our young people. While many older folk criticise the young for being unwilling to do a hard days work, for being too soft and arrogant and entitled, we forget that it is us that created the environment that brought our interpretation of this collective attitude into being. Our generation, caught up in the swinging hips and pouting lips of the 70’s, the bright lights and neon tights of the 80’s, we are the ones who want to just keep partying like it is still 1999.

Work hard, party hard. Right?

What many are unwilling to do though, is the difficult identity work that our young people are now working through. Adolescents willing to go to therapy and understand their emerging neuroses, as they are developing, as they are playing out, patterns repeating for the first time or maybe the second, but without decades of conditioning layered over  shadows already forming.

Kids transitioning, transforming and transcending, both understanding and seeing beyond the notions of social constructivism,  the made up nature of the world around them. The injustice, the inequality, the brutality of a made up system they don’t agree with and don’t wish to be part of. They can see that they have a choice.

Yet still the media and politicians scratch their heads. Ignoring the obvious.

The great resignation is just a side effect, as millions of parents and others, conscious, thinking people look around and realize, they can’t be themselves in this system. Collective identity work. We can’t follow our dreams and explore our passions in a world that narrows our attention to exam results and KPIs, unemployment rates and the national budget.

Do you feel it, as you read? As I write these words I feel my mind constrict, my awareness narrowing, my triggers igniting, the rant arising…..

Instead I switch my focus, to the wonders of creative technology, the connected world of our youth online, to the innovation and ingenuity of the ‘inexperienced’, the idealism of the ‘naive’, those without the knowledge of what ‘can’t’ be done or isn’t ‘real’. While there are many challenges yet to navigate, the internet and the digital world are already part of our future. And adapting to a world of increasing complexity is something the young are typically far better at than the old, those who’s minds have ‘reached a certain age’, and have ‘trouble letting go’ ( ~ Morpheous, The Matrix, 1999).

But our youth are doing the work needed. They are facing the demons we couldn’t bare to see. They are breaking generational patterns, working through trauma and the accumulation of dysfunction and toxic conditioning. Collectively, they are letting go. Freeing themselves of a system not fit for purpose, free to explore their potential and become their authentic selves.

Looking around at the macro patterns in society, I believe two new worlds are emerging, essentially characterized by the online community, and those moving off-the-grid. And for some, our identities already straddle these worlds. We are learning to harness the possibilities of technology and the virtual world, while being grounded and nourished by the sustaining rhythms of our planet Earth.

Together, technology and ecology, wisdom and love, can remind us of who we really are and how beautiful life can be when we all show up with peaceful, ethical and collaborative intentions toward each other.

The wisdom of the ages and the passion that drives creation, the forces that will help us shape a better world.

Identity work reconnecting us, one by one, to the authentic energy and light within.

“I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

~ Neo, The Matrix.
The wisdom of the ages and the passion that drives creation, the forces that will help us shape a better world. ~ Simone B’Free
Freedom comes from the confidence gained from truly loving one’s self.
Not through the lens of the ego, but the compassionate understanding of the heart and soul. Unconditional, ego-less, self love
. ~Simone B’Free

Album #2 – Transcending

Namaste Friends, I hope this finds you well and using your energy to find all the ways you can, to thrive in this rapidly changing world.


This album (2 of 12 to date) reflects the realization that I could use my body to express myself through images, and that nudity enhanced or expanded what i could say, as did new photographic skills, accessorizing, and better equipment, my storytelling tools.

This is me coming home, and re-discovering a sense of confidence in my own skin. This is when I realized my body was beautiful, and not the horrid, defective, source of betrayal I had come to regard it as being. I had tried to make myself believe it before, with some success, however this is me capturing a newfound love of my whole self, my image, my body, my ability to capture what I was feeling; and my courage for trying to do so.

This is me realizing I could be whoever I wanted to be, that I didn’t have to be who I’d been told I was; too loud and smart to be ignored but too young and pretty to be taken seriously. Thighs and butt too big and lumpy to be sexy, but a face and smile to draw a crowd. A body not good enough for commercial purposes, a mind too quick to be contained. I am grateful they dared suggest my irrelevance, the slap in the face woke me up. This is me realising they don’t get to sideline me in my own life.

This is my story to tell.

I felt alive, free, playful, and exuberant. I was breathing in the world as it turned its monolithic head, and glanced at me. A nod , a sign post to indicate I was heading in the right direction.

There was a sense of something coming out and showing itself to the world, I was overcoming beliefs about my body that  I learned in my formative years, comparisons made, unhelpful, critical comments, sexist inappropriate, unnecessary remarks. I see now how they made their insecurities mine.

Well fuck them.

I am taking back my body.

My right to live as I please.

I take back my sovereignty and the right to write my own story, to reject their criticisms and their perspectives of me. I will not doubt myself like that again.

This gallery is a reflection of the moments in which I started to really see my self.

This gallery is a reflection of the moments in which I started to really believe in myself.

In these moments I started to fully love myself again, and through this process I began to transcend.

To a place more peaceful than where I had been.

A place where I could lay the pieces of myself out and see them in a way they’d never been seen.

In these moments of deep reflection, I started to make sense of my self, for myself.

Walk and touch peace every moment.

Walk and touch happiness every moment.

Each step brings a fresh breeze.

Each step makes a flower bloom.

Kiss the Earth with your feet.

Bring the Earth your love and happiness.

The Earth will be safe

when we feel safe in ourselves.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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May you be happy, healthy and free from suffering.

Namaste.

Sitting with an angry shadow

As I look around I see sisters in transformation rising up. Women’s issues in the workplace, particularly around sexual harassment and the way women navigate their way through these difficult conversations, is a very hot topic in Australia right now.

Recently, Grace Tame, 2021 Australian of the Year, refused to smile in a meeting with the Australian Prime Minister, it has raised a national conversation about the role of angry women as drivers of change.

I am hearing it in my own conversations about change with others who are dedicated to helping bring about systemic transformation, but are still coming to terms with the nuances of the changes needed to re-imagine our places of work and trade as inclusive and consensual .

People are noticing that women are speaking up more. That we are demanding that they listen more than speak. But they are not yet sure how to hear what she is saying.

While you spent  lunchtime yesterday listening to her angry outburst, she has lived the experience her whole long life. Can you hear her? She is my colleague, she is my friend, she is my sister and she is me.

She will not be my daughter.

I will not dampen my anger, I will not sit until I am calm. Sitting enrages me further, sitting allows me to see.

I see the way that want us all to stay smaller, to smile and be polite. Diplomatic. Aren’t I supposed to be some peace loving hippie? Why aren’t you happy all the time?

As I shed the norms of the good girl daughter and the pleaser wife, my expectations of myself fell to the floor with my clothes. Why would I stand against those I love but fall at the feet of those who have used me? Those who keep others small and contained everyday.

What once was designed to harness the energy of the non-land owning workforce continues with a tantalising promise of your own home. They realised they had to modify the game to keep you playing. Come work for us,  work for a while and then banks will loan you money, then keep working for the next 30 or so years and you can have this token of our appreciation, we’ll let you keep the house, probably.  And maybe you get clever and level up, and get a bigger house and a nicer car and go on longer holidays…..but you are still their slave. Your slavery has just been made more comfortable with built in rewards and that ever-present threat of punishment, the fear of losing it all.

Faced with an army of passive establishment soldiers, themselves enslaved by the delusion of freedom, the workers march on. But not I.

And not, so, so many others. For every person reading this blog there are many thousands of others thinking these thoughts too. Women and men who are tired of having their minds raped, their ideas pimped, their smiles sold; all for the privilege of paying off a mortgage on a house they couldn’t afford. We are done.

And so I will not dampen my anger, instead I sit with her in mutual rage. We sit together and wonder about what we should do with our time. How to show our daughters where to find the cracks in the system, to pries them open and expose the rot inside.

My anger loves me and my daughters just as much as I.

Simone B’Free – Identity work leads to shadow integration.

Shadow integration is essential for transcendence. The system relies on your continued passivity, your diplomacy, your ability to keep it above the fucking line.

There is strength in your shadow. She moves within in you with purpose, with meaning, with conviction and passion. Hold her back at your own remorse. Regret for things not done, for all those times you didn’t take a stand, didn’t say what you felt, didn’t act to change the way they assume that things should be done.

While we can take a non-violent path, one infused with empathy, with compassion, with lovingkindness for all; we must also have integrity in presenting what and who we are. If we are angry, it is fair and honest to let others know, I am angry. If I am frustrated, it is fair and honest to let people know my resentment is growing. Do I instead pretend that all is ok, enable you and allow you to continue to cause me pain and suffering, all the while my fear and/or hatred for you growing? Who does that serve?

Should people in positions of power, those with privilege and dominance and control, be allowed to continue in their efforts to enslave simply because they are polite and diplomatic about it? But the tearful, angry, emotional woman they have betrayed needs to go and calm down and get herself under control…???

Control.

Get yourself under control woman.

Can’t you control your woman?

Can’t you control your kids?

My father asked me this once. Screamed it at me from across the room. “CAN’T YOU CONTROL YOUR BLOODY KIDS?”. He sat at the dining table, expecting his quiet pre-dinner beer, his cheese and crackers, the dips and bread. But instead he was faced with the usual pre-dinner riot of pre-school children fighting for their right to keep partying…. children he didn’t know, didn’t ever lift a finger to help raise, didn’t accept their divergence. Didn’t know how to love.

And the answer is no. I can’t control my kids. I’ve never really tried.

My kids have been taught to think freely. To be themselves even when it hurts. My kids have taught me to be free. To be myself, even when it hurts.

And it does hurt.

So when you worry that my anger will make him uncomfortable, when you get concerned that he will be offended or maybe confused at my request to try something different, to see me differently, to respond to me, not his expectation of what I will be, your worry is not for him, but for yourself.

You are worried that you are also causing this hurt and this pain.

And you are angry that your wife and daughters, your sisters and mother, they’ve all suffered for this and for more.

And now you can hear the pain in her voice,

And you can sit with her anger and with her.

Now you see, it was keeping you small as well. If she is held back, you are held back, her potential is our potential, what is possible can be in service of us all.

Free your mind, your body and your soul, let your angry shadow strengthen your voice  and give you the energy to stand, to step up and step in.

Claim your life, your sovereignty.

Allow all of your self to be.

Simone B’Free – Allow all of your self to be.

From my desk, to yours… thank you for subscribing 🙂 Namaste

What it is to be a wild woman

I fucking hate toxic positivity.

“Keep it above the line…”, I was told.

“Let people speak for themselves”.

“Your problem is you care”.

“Not everyone feels like you”.

We don’t want to hear anything bad about ourselves or what we’re doing. No-one else is brave enough to speak up, and that’s the way we like it. We don’t understand your suggestions or concerns, you’re looking at it all wrong. We have lulled the others into a false sense of security and you are threatening the status quo.


I could be a team player, I could play between the lines when it made sense, I could even smile on cue. But I couldn’t fucking tolerate pretending everything was fine when it fucking wasn’t. I was done with that.

For me, stepping over, fully, from good girl to wild woman, was the moment I completely rejected the notion that I had to be right and liked and approved of by most of the people most of the time. Fuck it. Fuck them. Fuck everyone.

Whatever. I went the distance, I stepped up, I stepped in and it still wasn’t good enough???  I am done settling.I’m done taking orders from people who wont step into the arena.

I bring my best. I learn, I grow.

I have had enough feedback in my life, in so many different forms, to understand well enough  now how I am seen, in all the roles I have played. Role identity is not always a helpful concept, another tool for categorising and fragmenting our selves. But being able to assign feedback to a certain role is useful. If the time comes that feedback suggests this role is no longer serving you, having the ability to release yourself from that identity, by ‘retiring’ the role, is a freedom many forget they have.

When you can step away from (or out of) the norms and expectations of certain role identities you have adopted, you can start to see where there is good fit and where there may be potential dissonance. This is hard. It is very confronting and, if you really acknowledge what you learn, you can’t then ignore what you’ve seen.

Quite a few years ago now, I did a leadership identity exercise as part of a course and had to ask  the people who knew me best at the time, when they believed I was at my best. They all said pretty much the same thing. The people around me see me at  my best when I am helping other people be at their best.

I fucking hated that.

The tantrum was real.

I didn’t want to be always using my energy to help others. When did I get to finally help myself? When was it my turn to love me?

It took me a long time to fully realise two things:

  • Loving others is loving yourself; and
  • I could choose to start loving me any time, whenever I wanted.

But the thing about keeping it ‘above the line’ is that you never talk about the stuff that needs to be talked about. You never get to demonstrate your ability to love and accept unconditionally, or to experience unconditional love. And you don’t get all the feedback about yourself that you need to learn and grown as a human being.

Toxic positivity and a culture of ‘politeness’, usually masks an underlying culture of blame.

Just keep smiling and do your job.

I’m just going to keep tolerating you because that’s the polite thing to do.


As a woman I have had to learn the hardest of ways, that it is not safe to be polite. Setting boundaries, saying ‘no’, and asking to have your needs met can’t always be done with a courteous ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  Particularly in a society where the social norm, is for women to serve men.

I get your dinner.

I wash your clothes.

I let you think you’re right.

And now look at the fucking mess we’re in.

And so now I’m mad. Now the wild woman surfaces.

The crone doesn’t mind if you think she’s crazy. The maiden has been set free. The child is safe and happy. And the wild woman dances with glee.

The wild woman dances with glee ~ Simone B’Free

The wild woman knows that it is no longer safe to keep it ‘above the line’, it’s time for the difficult conversations, and that it’s time for us to acknowledge that ‘polite’, ‘and professional’ are just sanitised, construed, inauthentic half-versions of ourselves.

To keep the peace, to not rock the boat; it’s simply enabling the bullshit to go on.

To be a wild woman is to speak your mind, to use your voice, your power, to serve and protect what you love, to stand your ground or move into another space, whatever sets you free.

Wild women, be free ~ Simone B’Free

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Namaste

SB’F x



From the willow tree…

Since the time I was that little girl in the willow tree I have needed to be reminded of myself time and again.

Since the time I was that little girl in the willow tree I have needed to be reminded of myself time and again. My life has been such that I have had the opportunity to reinvent myself more than once. There are only a very small handful of people in my life that know enough of my story that they could share a sense of continuity and consistency around my narrative identity, the way my character and experiences have unfolded. Together they could put together more than each alone, but none know all.


This is not unique to me at all. It is a shared experience of the multiple aspects of self and how our identities become fragmented and we lose a sense of integration. Some people experience this only to a small degree and for others it can lead to dysfunction.


When families were more functional, when we lived in villages and didn’t move from state to state, country to country, pursuing whatever it is we felt we needed to do, we were surrounded by people who could help us remember who we are, not just how we feel in ourselves (introspective self), but who we are to others (relational self).


In our busy modern society filled with different organisations, clubs, groups, politics, and countless other social identities, our relational self becomes many, few cross-over or provide consistency through interaction or integration and as a result, our introspective self becomes overwhelmed with information about ourselves which is very often inconsistent. When we experience this inconsistency (known as cognitive dissonance) we have a choice between pausing and acknowledging it, and doing the work to understand and resolve it; or using a strategy to avoid, ignore, repress or deny it. When we chose option two, we feed the hungry shadow, our existential baggage grows heavier and we rob ourselves of the chance to grow and be free of the things we fear.


I left school for the first time at age 25. I had worked the entire time, very often full-time hours as well as being a full-time student since kindergarten. Many, many hours of time when most children played, I worked, I provided child care for my younger siblings, and I stole every possible moment I could for myself, to read, do my homework or write poetry. My life, from a very young age, has been one in service of others. I served my first customer from behind the counter of our family store at age 3.


Shari aged 3, 1978 ~ I’ve always had spunk
Shari aged 4, 1979 ~ The good girl

You might have already judged that little girl in the willow tree to be an imaginative child, she was also curious, friendly, warm and intelligent, which meant others engaged with her freely, building her relational self through conversation, mostly with adults. The other thing I have always been in the presence of others is open, I naturally show up with a level of authenticity that I now realise is relatively rare. That’s not a brag. It has not always been a good thing, in fact it is the source of so much pain and trauma. When you are that vulnerable and no-one in your life has taught you boundaries, you suffer. When the people that should have protected and guided you, instead used and controlled you, your self worth is threatened and your relational self has to make a choice in service of your ego: empathy or narcissism. Surrender to the notion that you are here to be of service to others and give yourself over as the pleaser, doing all you can to meet the needs of others, your ego wanting them never to experience, as you did, needs not being met. Or, embracing the desires of the ego, you reject the notion that you are here to be of service to others and instead, in service of your wounded self, seek to control your environment and those within it.


For many, many years, I was a pleaser.


I enabled other people’s narcissistic dysfunction.


I was very good at it.


Many of you met me when I was at my best in this regard.

Dr Shari Read – ANU, 2018


But I am one of the very fortunate ones because I also showed up with a naturally strong spirit, one that has been crushed and trampled on but never quelled or extinguished. Most of you who know me, know that I am a spiritual person. So while I have struggled with anxiety and depression, there is always a sense of hope within me that comes from faith, and an understanding that the pain, whatever it is, will end. I wonder back to being the little girl who would chant affirmations to herself while jumping up and down on her bed. My mother had hung posters with lovely sayings in my room, ‘love makes the world just the right size’, ‘happiness is having you to cuddle’, there were others which I unfortunately can’t remember just now… but I do remember many times, making up little tunes using the words from those wall hangings.


And during my most difficult times in my teenage years I would play Wilson Philips ‘Hold On’ on repeat for hours. I believe it all helped build an inner strength that kept me connected to my spirit, my soul, the energy that gives us vitality and the desire to keep engaging with life.

On the other side of my childhood room when I was around 5 years old, was a large poster of the times tables, I would also dance about my room chanting those to myself…


And so you might be starting to get a sense of some of the things that occurred during my formative years that have contributed to my character, my strengths, my passion and my identities.


The identity that lead me to meet most of the people in my network (as it is as I write this post) is that of teacher.


My first teaching gig was as a Sunday School teacher at St George’s Anglican Church, in my hometown in Tasmania. I was in my first year of high school and I loved it. While I do not identify as Christian, the lessons, the growth and the exposure to community and ritual is something I will always be grateful for.

I told my year 8 English teacher that I wanted to be a teacher and he told me I could do better… he also didn’t shame me when I experimented with ‘bad’ behaviour in his classroom. One day when I was trying to be cool in front of a guy I had a crush on for the entirety of high school, I wrote on his essay draft in class. He had written an unfinished sentence, something about going to his bedroom. While he was out of his seat I leaned over and wrote something about him touching himself, implying masturbation. Because I was such a goody-goody at school the boy thought it would be funny to get me in trouble with the teacher, but Mr G. recognised the behaviour for what it was and again simply said ‘you could do better’. I still wanted to be a teacher.


At 21 I started teaching at university as a tutor in developmental and cross-cultural psychology. Within 18 months I was coordinating courses as a lecturer in social psychology and continued to do so throughout my PhD candidature.


Since that time I have been a childbirth educator, a yoga teacher, a corporate/executive educator and a university lecturer. Teacher is the most consistent role I have played throughout my life, besides that of nurturer (more to come on that role).


In 2018 I received several awards from the university I was teaching at acknowledging my contribution and service to education at the institution, I was so proud. I had been innovative and bold and taken a few risks and, with this recognition, I was rewarded for it. The greatest reward was my connection with students though. As a post-graduate lecturer, I had the privilege of learning from people from all around the world, who had been in the workforce already, and had stories to share of their experience and frustrations. I’m not sure how many business school academics realise how lucky they are, that the knowledge and experience and questions and challenges walk right through the door and even pay to be in our classrooms!! Most academics have to go in search of their subjects and data, and students.

Dr Shari Read accepts the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Educational Excellence, ANU, 2018


By the time I was teaching in business schools I had already spent over a decade teaching mind/body ‘medicine’, yoga and meditation, had studied clinical psychology, undertaken immersive training in Buddhist psychotherapy and worked as a therapist. Bringing spirituality to the management classroom wasn’t a choice, it was embodied and came with me, part of the package. What I wasn’t expecting was the creeping dissonance that grew with my sense of identification with being an academic, or the devastating, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking effects of freeing myself from its chains.

Dr Shari Read celebrates her award for Excellence in Education, ANU, 2018.


Once I went to a talk given by a young, gorgeous Buddhist monk, he giggled as he explained that happiness wasn’t in the places we were looking, not in the fridge where we left a piece of cake, nor in the shopping bags we carried home. Likewise freedom isn’t in roles or titles we chase, not in the promotion or position, the salary or benefits. In fact freedom is in none of those things because the more we chase them the more we forget all the other choices we could be making, all the other freedoms we could be pursuing with less stress, less politics, less responsibility for things you can’t control….


Walking away from my academic career (for the second time), wasn’t a choice, it was the reintegration and realignment of my relational and introspective selves, a resolution of dissonance; a reclamation of sovereignty.

Simone B'Free reflects critique and validation of women’s experiences of injustice in a system that seeks to both exploit and control her mind, and her body.
Simone B’Free reflects critique and validation of women’s experiences of injustice in a system that seeks to both exploit and control her mind, and her body.

Remarkably ordinary

In a seemingly random moment, one rainy morning, I realised;


My shadow, my imperfections, my reactive tendencies are as unique and valuable to me as my strengths, my ability to create and craft.


I am an alchemist, able to make strength from pain, able to reframe the story and recast myself.


I am a wild woman, I am Lilith and a witch balanced by light and dark. I am ruled by love,  and I do not wait for your gates to open.


My path is my own, I am not your servant, nor do I serve your machine god. I am a warrior and I am free.

Simone B’Free ~ One woman’s exploration of freedom and authenticity, a journey of feminine sovereignty.