Opening the door to Ignite

By Elle Forest 

After finding a spot to park on the small road high up in the Oakland hills, I approached the front door with the address in my hand. I recall knocking and some unknown face opening the door. On the floor to my left was a large pile of shoes, so I took the cue and removed mine also. A group of women were already gathering around a computer screen and I felt utterly out of place. It was too late to leave, so I sat in a chair, as everyone but me seemed to know what to do. I glanced at the women around me and knew I did not belong here. My mind took its typical inventory: who was prettier, who was thinner, who was happier, who was strange, and who was smarter? These women all seemed different than me, and they seemed comfortable in this place. I was not.

Then the live broadcast began and I still didn’t feel any different. A woman came on the screen and talked about this group and what we were intending to do together as a circle of women. I did not know her, but I knew she was HeatherAsh Amara. She used terms like sisterhood, sacred space and intent, words I was familiar with, but only in the academic sense. As I listened to her speak and took a few notes, I realized that what she was saying resonated with me. Somehow, she seemed to already know that I had stepped into a place outside my comfort zone, that I had already compared myself to all the women in the room and that I didn’t feel I should be there.

That first day at the home on the hill in Oakland, I met women whose names I didn’t remember for a while. I met women who weren’t like me at all; I met women who were younger, prettier, freer, and women who frightened me by their differences. I was quiet most of the day as I cautiously observed and attempted to participate within my own comfort zone. I still felt out of place and knew everyone else knew that I didn’t belong there. I kept waiting for the moment when someone would realize I didn’t belong and they would ask me to leave—but that never happened.

So, the next time our group was scheduled to meet, I showed up again. It was still difficult, but not quite as difficult as the first time. In between classes, I would do the assignments and push myself. I began to gain steam and push myself more. I began to immerse myself in the work deeply and quickly. I still didn’t feel like I was one of these women, but I did feel like I belonged here. I was here for me, not for them—or at least that was what I thought.

Each new month brought a new topic, a new lesson, and a new way of stretching myself. Each month, I met the challenge head on. I wasn’t going to do this half way; I was all in. The months went by and before I knew it, I knew the interior lives of these women more than I knew the lives of my own friends. I knew their deepest struggles; their pains, their joys and I began to realize that these strange women were all struggling with the same things I myself struggled with.

I don’t really know who I was before I embarked on the journey of Ignite, I’ve changed too much to really recall with accuracy who I was then. I do know, that after Ignite, I never stopped. I continued to learn, study and grow. Those women that sat around that computer on that first day I walked in have been in my life for almost ten years now. Many of them flow in and out as people do, but something still always binds us together. Some of them have become trusted and deep friends who can be available to me at a moment’s notice. Since each of them is equipped with the same tools of sisterhood, each of them can step into the spot of confidant, loving support, witness, or simply friend as easily as the next. We are not separate, we are pieces of the same whole, and by learning how to truly be in sisterhood, even today we are still able to hold each other in any circumstance that one of us might encounter.