Embracing the space in-between with Edge

Regenerative spaceholding means cultivating the capacity to dance between opposites. To inhabit and feel at home in that non-binary space of 'both' or 'in-between' which brings the flexibility and flow needed for new ideas, healing and growth to emerge. In other words: shifting from rigid either/or ways of seeing, being, leading, problem-solving or creating makes for conditions conducive for life to thrive.

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Emily Johnsson
Emily Johnsson
Nurturing changemakers for a whole world.

Something so precious happened this week.

I had the deep honour and privilege to take a transformational journey with a truly special and brave group of changemaker Landscape Architects and Engineers from the company Edge, based in Malmö, Sweden. They invited me to join them on retreat at a unique local Ecolodge and learning centre for inner and outer sustainability.

We gathered to explore the inquiry: What can we develop within ourselves and in our business so that we can meet today’s challenges with resilience, whilst making a difference?

This was a brand-new experience and challenge for me in many ways, and one that has for sure nurtured me too.

For the past however many years, I have worked with predominantly right-brained, intrinsically-motivated people (mostly women) who often resist (but simultaneously long for) structure and systems.

I knew that in saying yes to this invitation, I would be faced with the opposite challenge: predominantly left-brained, analytical people (men and women) who may hold preconceived ideas or resistance towards anything non-linear, abstract, metaphorical, somatic or meditative (but who deep down may long for precisely these things).

Since as a society we have been socialised into believing that the right-brained ways of being hold less value and are often labelled as ‘strange’, I knew I would run a greater risk of ‘losing’ the group in exposing them to emotive language and inner-sensing experiences early on, than I would introducing analytical processes to my usual client base.

And yet, my intuition told me that in guiding people into their own regenerative self-leadership, I needed to do exactly this: hold the space for an experience that enabled the participants to move between divergent and convergent ways of being and relating outside all of our comfort zones. That in order for there to be transformational shifts, we needed to start by allowing there to be a ‘right-brained non-linear shake-up’ of sorts, leaving them somewhat ‘out-at-sea’ and possibly in doubt (whilst being safely held).

A gentle introduction to the 4 pillars of Wish Tree’s self-leadership model and a guided gratitude meditation on the first evening was followed by non-linear movement facilitated by musicians, and the activation was in full swing!

Unsurprisingly, I woke up at 4.30 am on the morning before our full day workshop sensing some resistance percolating in the group. I knew that now was the time to switch gears and meet them with my scientist left-brained self, speak a language and provide a structure and reference points that they were used to and felt safe with, and allow for convergence to enter the process.

It worked.

Feeling the trust and connection grow in the room allowed the dots to be connected too, between the bigger picture for change on the planet, the disruptive challenges we are about to face in the coming decade, the shift towards wholeness in our inner and outer eco-systems, and an excitement of being part of a movement for change.

So, when the afternoon arrived, a half-hour guided tree-meditation and deep relaxation was fully welcomed (so much so that I didn’t even need to ask anyone to lie down on the floor and breathe deeply!), so was a poetry exercise visioning a thriving future and speaking and listening with each other heart-to-heart.

I was completely blown away at what was able to EMERGE in the dance between divergent and convergent ways of being and relating in this wonderful group, and how in the process I was not only able to, but REQUIRED to bring all parts of me to the space – as such model what “both-beingness” can look like and feel like.

It was a precious experience of wholeness in community I will never forget.

This was also my first-time holding space for an in-person retreat since the pandemic, and my first workshop in Swedish in 7 years.

This has meant that over the past little while, I have worked long days and weeks to re-organise and translate materials, learn new words and terminology, and switch my brain into a ‘seeing’, writing and speaking ‘work-language’ in Swedish.

The experience enabled my language brain to have both a release and expand, and although my fluency was far from perfect, it was good enough to do the job. More wholeness.

My heart is full and grateful.

We were all held by the magic and power of Ecotopia retreat centre with its beautiful green building eco-design, lush gardens and forest, and 3 course plant-based gourmet dining.

Thank you Universe.

More of this juicy, expansive wonderness please.

If you would like to collaborate with us to create a bespoke retreat or workshop (online or IRL) for your team, get in touch and we’ll talk more!

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Emily Johnsson | November 25, 2023
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About Emily & White Supremacy

Emily is a space holder and self-leadership coach to changemakers. She has over 20 years experience in the field of human development, learning and growth, and leads the coaching and consultancy company Wish Tree since 2011. Her work centres around wholeness – whole humans, whole communities, whole organisations, whole ecosystems. A whole world. Her changemakership is therefore dedicated to clearing distortions and fragmentations that relate to our perceptions of separation.

Emily has been exposed to and ‘sat with’ systemic issues around race, racism, privilege and injustice her whole life. She was born in Camden, London, in the late 1970s to a Swedish immigrant single mum and spent her first formative years in a highly culturally and ethnically diverse setting. As a baby, Emily and her mum lived in a bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family. Her first memory of Father Christmas was of him as a Bangladeshi man. Emily’s mum worked with refugee families and in Children’s Homes in inner city London, and since she had no access to child care opportunities, Emily joined her at work. For a while, Emily had an older Black British foster sister called Debbie. She was very often the only white child in the community of children of which she was a part.

Emily moved to Sweden with her mum as a child and as a teenager became involved with, and led, antiracism youth work in her local town through her school and council-initiated networks in the 1990s.

Her mum, who was active in the peace-and- environmental movement and who had been involved as an ally in the civil rights movement in the US on her travels there, introduced her to Black feminist and activist writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Audre Lord, and actively taught her about white privilege, white supremacy and the truth of colonialism. She was also taught about the importance of learning from Indigenous wisdom keepers in order to heal and evolve as humanity, and to (in those days) stop climate change.

In contrast, on her father’s side, Emily is of British Colonial descent. Emily’s grandmother was born in Zimbabwe to Scottish sheep-farmers. Her grandfather came from a poor English background but won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study law. As many young British men of his time who sought “adventure, a good job and travel”, Emily’s grandfather joined the colonial service in the final days of the British Empire, and served in several African countries as a high-ranking colonial officer. He spoke Zulu and Emily’s father spoke Swazi and Swahili before being sent to Britain as a child to attend boarding school, thousands of miles away from his parents.

Although Emily did not grow up with her father or his family, she eventually came to know them and have a relationship with them, which involved taking responsibility for understanding and healing her own familial and ancestral relationship to colonialism and white supremacy.

In this process, she came to see, feel and understand first hand and close up, the deeper psychological workings of the system of white supremacy, the colonial mind and its intimate links with narcissism, perfectionism, patriarchy and extractive economies and behaviours.

Between 2003-2015, Emily worked as a learning researcher and Access, Diversity and Inclusion enabler in the Arts & Cultural Sector, deeply rooted in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Convention. She worked across the U.K and Scandinavia contributing to a number of large scale change projects, self-evaluation initiatives, conferences and trainings such as “Access for All”, “Inspiring Learning for All”, “Belonging – the Voices of London’s Refugees”, “The West Indian Front Room”, “Kultur och Fritid för Alla”, “Vidgat Deltagande”, “In this curriculum I don’t exist”, “In between two worlds – London teenagers’ ideas about Black History, Belonging and being British” to name a few. She worked with a wide range of marginalised communities as well as with leaders and directors holding white privilege, facilitating necessary and brave conversations challenging the status quo.

Emily has worked across many cultures and languages around the world from Sri Lanka to South Africa, Costa Rica and India to Romania and Denmark, continuously reflecting on and challenging white saviour tendencies. In this process has come to observe how white supremacy and racism works differently in different countries depending on context and history.

In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Emily became a loud voice in the Wellness industry by calling in leaders bypassing white supremacy through ‘love and light’ rhetoric, exceptionalism, colourblindness and virtue signalling. She closed down several online coaching circles because white participants were unwilling to dive deeper into their own internalised white supremacy, and rendered the spaces not only additionally unsafe, but traumatising for BIPOC clients. Her platform and large facebook community for coaches and wellbeing facilitators centred BIWOC-led anti-racism conversations as a response.

Emily is a skilled and fiercely loving coach and space-holder with many years experience of creating safe spaces for accountability, healing, integration and growth to take place.

She is dedicated to her own ongoing learning, healing and unlearning of covert white supremacy. Examples of this are continuous learning from a wide range of anti-racism educators, authors and activists from around the world.

This bio has not been written with the intention of centring Emily in the context of Me & White Supremacy, but to transparently share about her background, values, skills and experience in order for you to make a conscious decision to choose her as a space-holder, or not.

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