Prioritizing the Healing of Women of Color in the Puget Sound
It was about an hour before participants were scheduled to arrive at the EmpowerWOC Project Healing Retreat when I started to feel the sharp panic of imposter syndrome.
“Who am I to offer this retreat?”
“What could I possibly add that my incredible practitioners are not already offering?”
“What if I was completely wrong about this being a need?”
“What if I FAIL?”
I took a moment to take in my surroundings. The beautiful and sacred Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island was the backdrop I had chosen for our inaugural retreat. I sat on the patio of the dining hall and closed my eyes, took in the fresh air and the vibrant energy around me, and allowed myself to melt into a few deep breaths.
I had not quite put the imposter syndrome behind me, but I was ready to face what was in front of me. This was a defense mechanism that had gotten me through so many things. My first corporate job interview. Asking my boss for that promotion. Speaking up against a tyrannical customer. I had put on my “fake it til you make it” façade. And I stepped into the unknown.
The women of color who had signed up for the retreat came from all over, some having driven several hours to attend. Our first activity was lunch and roundtables with the practitioners, where participants could learn about the various healing practices represented at our retreat.
I sat down and talked with Kristine, our mental health therapist, and Meesa, our Reiki practitioner, and let them in on my big secret: that I was not sure what value I brought to the retreat, that I was afraid and anxious. They listened, truly saw me, and reminded me of my power. This way that they offered their hands and pulled me out of my darkness to show me my power became a theme of the retreat, for me and for others. In that brief interaction, I realized that I don’t always have to find the power within myself, alone. I can reach out to my community and be reminded of my power.
In the hours and days that followed, we truly bonded as a community. We set intentions and agreements to assure that we were present with one another, and what happened naturally was that we set aside female competition and embraced empowered sisterhood. It was beautiful and counter-culture in a society that asks us as women, and especially as women of color, to adopt a scarcity mindset. This scarcity mindset lies to us, convincing us that there are not enough jobs, resources, partners, etc., etc., etc., to go around. Its poison seeps into our mind, pitting us against one another rather than allowing ourselves to truly be seen as the brilliant, creative, empowered beings that we are.
We saw one another during this retreat and allowed ourselves to be with one another, and do what felt intuitively easy to do – to relax into loving community with one another. The fact of the matter is that we are hardwired to connect and all it took was giving ourselves permission to do so. That and some pretty fierce self-care.
Self-care at this retreat looked like a couple of things:
The first and most obvious was that we had a number of women of color healing practitioners join us at the retreat to provide group sessions as well as focused one-on-one sessions. The healing practices we had at the retreat were:
Mental health therapy
Yoga and meditation
Empowered feminine coaching
The other part of our self-care regimen included choices we made to connect with ourselves (via solitude or alone time) as well as with our community. If an attendee needed to spend some time to process something that was coming up for her, we were very clear about the expectation that she take care of herself in those moments. She could skip group or individual sessions, if needed. This seems like a really simple concept, but the reality is that women, and especially women of color, have difficulty putting their needs first.
Once I was able to remember my own power (thanks to my loving community) and the importance of this work, I was able to trust the process and allow the retreat to be whatever it needed to be. I, along with my incredible practitioners, gently guided these women toward putting their healing first and empowered them to bring that energy forward into their lives.
And the imposter syndrome? Once I was able to fully step into the room and allow myself to be seen by these brilliant women, it dissipated quickly, like a fog driven away by the rising sun. Imposter syndrome is a byproduct of a system that continues to lie to us, one that says that we are not smart enough, capable enough, creative enough, powerful enough... the list goes on and on. The antidote for imposter syndrome is surrounding yourself with loving community and remembering that you are enough. It didn’t stand a chance in that space.
The retreat was an incredible success and we walked away from that experience with a feeling of magic in the air. The testimonials from the women who attended remind me of how important and how needed this work truly is. We are offering another retreat in September 2020, and I hope to bring this work forward to lift up women of color for many years to come.