Emily’s story: From being on the run from the hungry ghost to knowing that the peace of wholeness begins with each of us

I could tell you about my qualifications and credentials, and don’t worry, I will. But they only give a small, and mostly insignificant piece of information about who I be in the world - where I have come from and the path I walk through life. In order for you to know me and know if you want to travel with me, I need to invite you in. To my heart. My life. My story.


Picture of Emily Johnsson
Emily Johnsson
Nurturing changemakers for a whole world.


More than anything else, I am a human being whose life mission it is to gather people in emotionally intimate spaces where we learn to lead ourselves well and together nurture a sense of wholeness.

Saying yes to wholeness means we accept the invitation to heal deeply and shed the layers of pretending that we have used in order to survive in a disconnected world. Learning to lead ourselves well is a collective homecoming journey to life- the love that is life – one step and one breath at a time.

I didn’t always understand wholeness as wholeness.

For a long time, I would simply describe wholeness as ‘peace.’ Now I know that it is our sense of wholeness that brings us the experience of peace.

for most of my life, I was on the run from the hungry ghost of ‘never enough’ which meant I went looking for the peace of wholeness in all the wrong places.

As a child, I believed that ‘peace’ was the relief I would experience when easing someone else’s suffering, appeasing a demand or the reward you received when meeting someone else’s needs.

I did not know then what I know now, that peace is not something we earn. Peace is every being’s birth-right.

I WAS RAISED between two radically different worlds – worlds that turned out to be the perfect conditions for me to learn about wholeness. But first I had to learn about the absence of it.

My mother, a free-thinker, unafraid of life, came from a working-class Swedish family. She moved to London in her late teens. Later, spent time in California where she supported the civil rights movement. She was a peace and environmental activist, a student of Indigenous wisdom and an advocate of children’s rights. From my mother I learnt about unconditional love.

My father was charming, highly educated and charismatic. He came from a colonial British family and spent the first years of his life living in a small village in Swaziland where my grandfather was High Commissioner and my father was the only white child. My father was sent to boarding school in Kenya at the at of 5, and at 9 to England. The trauma of this separation resulted in my father developing what we today know as boarding school syndrome and narcissistic personality disorder. From my father I learnt about conditional love.

At 6 months pregnant, my mother received a letter from my father, declaring that it was best if he didn’t have anything to do with either her or me ever again.

Her world shattered. So much so, that I could have died that day. She was put on early maternity leave by doctors and I was born a month prematurely. The shame, grief and trauma of my father’s abandonment became wired into our nervous-systems.

With my father out of the picture and with no family of her own in England, money – and support – was tight.

As a baby, we lived in a North London bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family. My mum now worked with refugee families and in children’s homes. As we had no access to childcare, I joined her at work. I was very often the only white child in the community of children of which I was a part.

We moved to Sweden to be nearer to my maternal grandparents. But my grandfather’s bipolar disorder had an eroding effect on everyone else’s emotional health. Although my grandparents doted on me, my grandfather’s illness was a constant battle. I was taught that mental health issues is something shameful and not something you speak about. We had to pretend to survive.

I was academically gifted and I quickly learned that achieving good grades was something that made the adults in my life proud and happy.

I was told that because we had few financial means and no connections, education would be my ticked in life. So I studied. And studied. I became a good girl. Doing good to be good. I acted in plays, played the violin and lead the student council.

All the while I wondered about the family I had in England – a father, grandparents and a brother – who did not seem to want to see me, or care about me.

I concluded there must be something deeply wrong with me.

Not only did I come to believe that my reason for being was to make others happy, I also felt that I had to earn my right to be here.

Together with with a deep sense of love for humanity, Nature and the Earth that had always been with me, these mindsets of unworthiness formed the soil from which I grew my sense of identity as a changemaker.

on the bookshelves of our home were Black feminist writers, indigenous wisdom keepers, spiritual texts and poetry. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about atomic bombs, environmental destruction, classism, misogyny, white supremacy or racism.

My mum and grandfather taught me about global geopolitical relationships and I was brought along by my mother to peace manifestations in our local town, something which inspired me to spontaneously organise my first peaceful civil disobedience protest in response to unfair treatment of girls in my school aged 10.

With the support of my mum, my friends and I, then aged 11, started a significant fundraising campaign to protect the Costa Rican rainforests. We collaborated closely with the Swedish – Costa Rican initiative The Children’s Rainforest.

Our campaign secured over one million square metres of rainforest.

Eventually, children from around the world joined the Children’s Rainforest movement. Many years later, I was able to visit the forest and meet with people whose community had transformed as a result of the protection of the forest.

I learned that no matter how small you are, you can always make a difference.

A few years later I became an active member of and led several anti-racism youth initiatives in my school and wider community.

Unable to deal with the trauma of my father’s betrayal, and despite a trail of red flags, my mother had not given up hope of a reconciliation and wanted him to be a part of my life.

My father and I dutifully began some sort of relationship – random, in-consistent meetings often followed by long periods of no contact. In my teens I began travelling on my own to meet him in different countries.

He was now a British diplomat.

My mum and I lived in a block of council flats where where several other single mothers and their children lived. We had very little money. People looked down on us from time to time.

When I travelled to see my father, I entered into an astronomically different world.

I had to dress and speak differently in order to fit in. We ate in restaurants and visited ambassadors. I was expected to converse in different languages and spend time with young people who lived in extreme privilege.

There was an unspoken rule that the truth about me and my life must never be revealed. I learnt that I had to pretend to be someone I was not in order to be accepted. To snatch a glimpse of belonging. Meetings were always preceded by fear, and ended with a feeling of being heartbroken, angry and a lasting sense of emptiness.

I lived a double life, becoming a skilled chameleon, moving between the rich and poor, the have and have-nots, the colonialists and the abolitionists, the oppressors and the oppressed. I occupied the space in-between, able to see the world through both lenses, all at the same time.

But it was taking a toll on my physical body. I developed a severe form of IBS. Later disordered eating.

Learning that I had active colonial ancestry was confronting. I started seeing links between colonial legacy, power-over hierarchy, patriarchy, boarding-schools, conditional belonging, and the abandonment of children as a strategy to uphold empire.

My quest for wholeness – for peace – had begun.

Interested in everything from biology and philosophy to social studies and storytelling, I was frustrated by the school-system’s insistence on separating subjects and issues that to me felt interconnected.

I had a need – possibly an obsession – to understand how what seemed separate fitted together. This led me to study the History and Philosophy of Ideas and Sciences as soon as I graduated from highschool. Here I found a bigger picture grounded in the past and present, and I began to notice the story of separation everywhere, not just in obvious places.

I majored in Science Communication at UCL with the belief the public understanding of science would lead to more climate action and better ways of living together on the planet.

I was awarded a full scholarship with the Centre for Informal Learning and Schools, and became a learning researcher (MRes Education & Social Sciences, King’s College London) passionate about the development equitable, creative, immersive informal learning environments.

I believed in creating spaces where children and their grown-ups could connect, learn and explore everything from the urgency of the climate crisis to untold colonial history, and participate in truth-telling conversations about the past, present and future – no matter their learning style, background or formal education level.

But although I was getting paid to do something meaningful and purposeful, a deeper experience of life was calling me.

As a young woman twenty years ago, my long DAILY LONdon bus commutes was dedicated to thinking deeply about death, and reading texts about the art of living.

Within a year I had quit my hard-won job, broken up with my boyfriend and was on a plane to Sri Lanka to manage a team of psychosocial volunteer arts-music-and drama-therapists in response to the 2004 South Asian Boxing Day tsunami.

I spent two periods in the field working in displacement camps with severely traumatised children and communities. Projects in India and Romania followed. Then time in South Africa with the Global Campaign for Education, and a consultation process held in Botswana serving children across Southern Africa raising themselves due to the devastating effects of HIV in Southern Africa.

When I returned home I became a sought-after change activator in the Arts & Cultural Sectors both in the U.K and in Scandinavia, on a mission to make the sector more equitable, relevant and participatory in decision making, leadership and design.

From deep listening to and with marginalised community groups, children, young people and educators, to advisory roles, delivering keynotes, broad-scale immersive training opportunities, reports and publications prepared the soil for a sector-wide transformation into a more accessible, inspiring, diverse and purpose-led field.

Nonetheless, I had become a saviour – seeking to fix on the outside what felt broken on the inside.

I worked all hours of the day, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Severely co-dependent – I endlessly put other people’s needs before my own, rescuing, proving, perfecting, rushing, pushing, being busy all the time. I lived with a constant feeling of never being or doing enough.

I put cause before care for myself, and whilst I was leading both projects and people, I wasn’t leading myself well.

By night I numbed through partying hard, burning the candle in both ends. I lived from the head up, disconnected from my body.

Then one day, I found out that my mother had stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
The very next day I was shown a letter that my father had written about me to another family member.

Cruel and ridiculing, it was the wake-up call I needed.

It was time for me to choose life.

I confronted him with his own words, sharing that the abuse had now come to an end.

Soon after, my mother died, following rapidly degenerative effects of wrongly over-subscribed cancer medication.

I never saw or spoke to my father again.

The grief felt like falling into an abyss.

On top I navigated complex PTSD.

All the while my company, Wish Tree, was growing.

I would lie awake in hotel rooms sweating and shivering through the night, rising at dawn to travel here, there and everywhere on planes, trains, in taxis to hold workshops, present strategies and facilitate meetings, only to stumble into bed at the end of each day with a depth of exhaustion that is hard to describe.

In the drawers of my deceased mother’s desk, I found information about the effects of narcissistic parents on adult children she had printed out from the internet.

This was before Instagram psychologists and readily available advice – I knew nothing about narcissistic personality disorder. My hands trembling as I read the pages – it was a perfect, scientific description of my entire life. I realised that my father was not capable – never capable -of changing.

I came to understand that the relentless hope that is ever-present in co-dependent relationships make us hold onto the illusion that if we only try harder, then maybe one day there can be a happy ending. What I had sought and longed for, had never been available.

I CAME TO KNOW THAT We hold on to hope for dear life because facing reality feels too hard. too frightening. so we lock grief into our bodies, instead of allowing it to set us free.

The happy ending I had dreamed of was only going to be possible if I made the decision to start a journey to heal the relationship I had with myself. I understood that my recovery was going to be a long and sometimes harrowing journey into the shadows of long tucked-away painful corners. I needed to feel in order to heal.

I began by reading dozens upon dozens of emotional healing and spiritual books. I started studying with teachers of life. I began different forms of therapy and started restoring MY PHYSICAL health. for the first time in my life, i began to feel like I was inhabiting my body.

I began to regenerate my life and my ancestral lineage, raising my hand to say: ‘it ends with me’.

Little by little, I pieced together my fragmented past and began to see clearly how my every decision, for as long as I could remember, had been dictated by internalised shame, passed on through generations.

Dedicated to Liberating myself from my what had been, meant I could create my future, And serve as a changemaker from a different place inside of me.

I trained as a life and leadership coach. (PGCERT Institute of Education, London, & Co-Active Coach training with the Global Coaches Training Institute).

I re-connected with joy. Aliveness. Life wanted to pulse through me.

Just before my mum had passed away I had – miraculously – met a wonderful, kind and caring man, and we got married.

I longed to become a mother: it had been my best kept secret all those years when my life didn’t belong to me.

But I wasn’t getting pregnant. And my belief in scarcity came flooding back. Why was I unable to achieve what everyone around me seemed to be able to with ease? My old wound of believing that I wasn’t enough, and unworthy of wonderful things came to haunt me yet again.

My successful career came to a halt due to fertility treatment, and my whole life now centred around trying to achieve my one goal. I tried every advice.

My life became controlled and contracted.

I had once again, attached my happiness – my ability to fully experience peace – wholeness – to external circumstances.

I needed to come to a hault so that I could fully learn one of life’s biggest lessons.

One day there was a positive pregnancy test. But our joy was to be short lived.

A missed miscarriage is when on an ultrasound scan you are told that the heart-beat of the little being growing inside you has stopped.

And that was the moment when I finally stopped too.

Shortly after, doctors told me that it was unlikely that I would ever be able to birth a healthy, living child.

It was then, that everything became still.

Once again.

But this time, so deeply quiet, so that at last I would listen.
Listen inwards to who I truly am, beyond my human body.

As I lost almost everything that I held important in my life, I found the real truth of who I am – what we all are : abundant, indestructible, life-force energy.

Although I had known this cognitively before, now I experienced it with my whole being.

I began seeing everyone in my world as a teacher in life, practising consciously connecting with others and Nature from a place of oneness. I began healing wounded masculine and feminine ways of being and relating. I became intentional about unlearning covert white supremacy. I dedicated myself to healing the wounded changemaker in me. I started sensing and feeling energy more clearly. My intuition became stronger and ever more reliable. I embraced the highly sensitive person (HSP) that I am, and allowed her to be who she is.

And I learnt that absolutely nothing and no-one on the outside can make me whole and complete. I came to truly know that the peace of WHOLENESS begins with me. With each of us.

I was the one I had been waiting for, just as we are all the ones we have been waiting for.

Life had a different plan for me and I surrendered to it.

But with no parents or children, I found myself hanging lose in the great tapestry of life.

A deep longing for community, connection, emotional intimacy, belonging and heart-to-heart interdependent relating began to rise within me. I wanted to leave my fierce independence behind for good, find my chosen family, and remember life together.

In 2016 the Wish Tree Academy opened its doors – a place where for the past eight years, changemakers from all walks of life come to heal deeply, learn soulfully and grow collaboratively in global community around virtual and real-life fires.

Wish Tree’s offerings, based on the invitation to become authentic and transparent self-leaders for the greater good of all and our planet, immediately attracted heart-led business owners and change agents, wellbeing facilitators, creatives, activists and healers of all kinds from around the world. The community Time to Shine was born in 2017 and had grown to 1500 members when it was hospiced in 2021.

In 2018, my husband Rick quit his job as a software developer and joined me in Wish Tree, taking care of all things tech and systems related.

In 2020 we left England for southern Sweden and the lands my ancestors worked for many hundreds of years.

We live close to the Earth and listen deeply to the wisdom of Nature and the trees – wisdom I weave into all of Wish Tree’s offerings, writings, and the spaces I find myself in.

Featured Posts

What is Wholeness? Embracing the fullness of life in all directions

Wholeness is a process that can support our capacity to lead ourselves well and move through life feeling more connected, resilient and free.

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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