Sisterhood: A Black Woman’s Journey to Laying Down Her Armor

22089164_10214808985436991_7314852023818380688_nNothing could have prepared me for what I would experience while nestled in the golden, rolling hills of Sonoma, California.  The journey had started over a year prior but finally came full circle last month during an amazingly, magical retreat.   February 2016 was when I enrolled in my Life Coaches’ training program and started on my path to become a life coach.  It was also my first exposure to the concept of sisterhood.

Over the next 12 months my mentor Jeannine Yoder would teach the women in her program techniques and best practices on how to coach our clients with an emphasis on “ease and flow.” Her specialty was none other than feminine leadership.   Jeannine referenced a book called Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan and John King and linked the stages of leadership directly to sisterhood.  In the third stage of leadership; which is where many of the women were in their leadership development, it speaks of how we have passed through the previous stages of survivalism and victimhood and have risen to a stage where we believe in ourselves and feel great about ourselves.  In this level the thinking can be summed up as “I’m great.”  In the next level, level 4 the heart expands outward and includes others in one’s environment in that belief and the belief becomes the “we are great.”  This is where the link back to sisterhood is made…  In-order to achieve ease and flow in our lives we are shown that speaking up and asking for what we need in sisterhood (and in our other groups as well) allows others the chance to give and receive support.  When it is done in the sisterhood group the sisters provide the support.  When this code of conduct is agreed upon and adhered to by everyone in the group, we would be able to rise to the next level of leadership: level 4: “we are great.”

Though I would try and try to achieve this level of leadership during the program, I was not able to fully achieve and maintain that level of leadership during the program.  I was what the book called a “lone warrior” and I was stuck in level 3.   It was difficult for me due to my experience with struggle during my upbringing.  You see, I thought I needed to be “strong,” “self-reliant” & “independent.”  My childhood seemed to be mired with letdown after letdown when I would rely on my parents for the simplest of things.  The place I was supposed to find my sense of security felt like it was always being knocked out from under me.  The support I needed from the people who were in my environment, did not exist.  I learned to guard my heart and shut down the part of myself that would be vulnerable to pain through that rejection.  I brought this scarring to my training.  I also brought with me “stories;” projections of my fears that the white women in the program (94% of the participants) would not fully accept me and that if they seemed like they did they could be faking it.

It took a lot of focused work on grounding myself into my own identity and finding comfort with who I am.  It took focused discussion and attention to race and racism as it exists in this country.  It took learning to speak my truth in difficult situations in mixed company before I could even begin to fathom leaning into sisterhood with a bunch of “well-meaning,” white women.  Leaning in meant I would have to truly show up as who I am, completely vulnerable, naked and showing all the parts of me, wounds and all.

When I showed up to retreat I felt ready.  It had been 7 months since I had completed my coaches’ training and in the interim I had also completed an anti-racism & social justice focused yoga teacher training.  I felt armed with self-awareness. I had the anti-racism training and language under my belt and I had the desire to be committed to full 100% presence.  I knew that I was going to show up and work through any issues that arose and process out any triggers.  In the beginning, I was a little leery of the work I would have to do but in the moments that followed, I was able to set that aside and be 100% present.

The very first workshop caught me off guard.  Though I said I would be 100% present; when I found out what it was we had to do, the degree of resistance I had was more than negligible.  We had to answer the questions of 1. what we stood for as a coach and 2. what personal story we lived through in our lives that made us the expert of that topic.  Initially it was difficult to find the story I could use in the format we were given.  Of course, there was a super obvious experience that made me the expert in being whole because I clearly had misplaced my wholeness and my power during an experience that catalyzed my journey to becoming a life coach but it was outside of my comfort zone to share.  My mind wanted to take a safe and easy route.   I thought the obvious story made me look weak & stupid.  Because of that, it was a far stretch beyond what I would have typically been willing to share.  However, it was clear that this was the story that showed how I had overcome a difficult time in my life and it qualified me to be an expert in what I stand for: wholeness.  I knew this was the story I had to share.

Jeannine helped guide us through the process of opening.  She comforted us by showing us the medicine and the healing that would be found in sharing these deep stories.  Unsure and half willing I decided to set my reservations aside for the moment and at least play with how I could tell the story I knew I had to tell.  I work-shopped my story with two beautiful sisters who I had known from my time in our training program together.  One who I knew very well and had been open with in the past and the other I had a limited bit of exposure to but I had also worked with to a lesser degree.  This was great.  I was given the opportunity to baby-step my way up to the big vulnerable share.  But what I found most interesting about this process of work-shopping my story with sisters was that the focus had shifted.  It wasn’t all about me and my fear of being exposed.  What had now been brought into my awareness was that I would now be having the chance to connect with, deepen and establish bonds with these sisters I had never seen in person before but I felt like I knew.  I was excited.  I wanted them to see me.  We had been in training together before but before I hadn’t completely applied myself to being open and vulnerable.  It was like I had been granted a “do-over.”  I would have the chance to share things with them that were from a sincere and genuine place.  I was sharing my truth and getting intimate and witnessing the same from them.  This was deepening into sisterhood.

I work-shopped my story with my sisters, shared it with my roommate later that evening and I kept teetering on the fence whether I would share this story or some last minute, safe-zone substitution.   It wasn’t until the next day when we began the story telling but when I heard the bravery and vulnerability of some of the other sisters’ stories who went before me that was when I finally knew that I had to also be brave.  Their stories called me to resonate on their same frequency and call upon courage.  I went for the big vulnerable share. I dove in deep, I was witnessed and to my surprise I was supported and sisters could relate to my experience the same way I had related to theirs.  And you know what?  After that I felt better.  I started feeling the support from other sisters who expressed that my story had resonated with them.

From then on in every other workshop or exercise I kept pushing myself to be present, to follow the directions, to give my all.   The layers of protection were removed one by one.   In the days that followed I laughed uncontrollably until my laughter turned into tears.  I declared I was ready to be seen and ready to see and the Universe (started to?) show(ed) me.

I started seeing all the ways I had only shown up partially.  I saw all the obstacles that were blocking me from being in sisterhood and I started seeing how to be a sister.  I started seeing my gifts through the reflections sisters who now felt invited to share with me due to my openness and vulnerability and I started to see me through their eyes.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I would have experienced on retreat because there were no words to explain it.  There were only feelings… and experiences that needed to be felt.  I went from a level 3 leader to a level 4, I now understand the feeling of “we are great,” and what it feels like to be supported.  I laid down my armor in exchange for an open heart and I am convinced that my life experience will be all the better because of it.

Special links:

Coaches training certification: Mentor Masterclass

Social Justice, Anti-Racism Yoga Teacher Training: Yoga Roots on Location

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Photo credit: Tanyada Soonthon
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2 thoughts on “Sisterhood: A Black Woman’s Journey to Laying Down Her Armor”

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