Relating and cultivating Community in Challenging Times with Kimberly Ann Johnson
For many it feels like aspects of community and being together has changed since the pandemic. Thankfully there is much we can do to create the belonging we crave, and to work with our nervous systems to move back into ways of connection that feel good.
This week I'm talking with Kimberly Ann Johnson, a Sexological Bodyworker, Somatic Experiencing practitioner, yoga teacher, postpartum advocate, and single mom on relating and cultivating community in challenging times.
Working hands-on in integrative women’s health and trauma recovery for more than a decade, she helps women heal from birth injuries, gynecological surgeries, and sexual boundary violations. Kimberly is the author of the Call of the Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power, and Use It for Good, as well as the early mothering classic The Fourth Trimester, and is the host of the Sex Birth Trauma podcast.
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Kimberly Ann Johnson is a Sexological Bodyworker, Somatic Experiencing trauma resolution practitioner, yoga teacher trainer, birth doula, and single mom. She is the author of Call of the Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power and Use It for Good as well as the early mothering classic, The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions and Restoring Your Vitality. She is the creator of Activate Your Inner Jaguar, an online course ushering thousands of women into their full voices and sexual expression, and the host of the Sex Birth Trauma podcast.
Kimberly Ann Johnson graduated Valedictorian in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Now she brings her policy focus to women’s health. She conducts retreats, workshops, and trainings, nationally internationally, teaching thousands of women and birth professionals worldwide about postpartum care, self-care for new mothers, and sexual health. Kimberly is in private practice in Encinitas, CA. Her most outstanding accomplishment is being a single mom to her 13-year-old Brazilian daughter, Cecilia.
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EPISODE 203: with Kimberly Ann Johnson
[Fun, Empowering Music]
Amanda Testa: Hello, and welcome to the Find Your Feminine Fire podcast. I am your host, Amanda Testa. I am a sex, love, and relationship coach, and in this podcast, my guests and I talk sex, love, and relationships, and everything that lights you up from the inside out. Welcome!
So welcome, everyone to the podcast. Today, I am so excited because I am going to be talking to a mentor. I have been reading her books since I first had my daughter, what, forever ago? I really just so value her wisdom around healing after trauma, around sex and motherhood, and awakening our inner power and using it for good. Welcome to the podcast today, Kimberly Ann Johnson. Thank you for being here.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Thank you so much.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, she’s a sexological body worker, a somatic experiencing practitioner, yoga teacher, postpartum advocate, and single mom, and really has been in this work of hands-on helping women heal from birth trauma and gynecological surgeries and sexual boundary validations for over a decade.
She’s written a few books as I’ve mentioned before. She wrote The Fourth Trimester which is how I first learned of her. It’s been such a beautiful tool in my own experience and I often gift it to my clients and friends that are going through the process of becoming a parent, and also, her most recent book, Call of The Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power, and Use It For Good. I just really appreciate her authentic way of sharing such deep information and making it very digestible. I have also had the pleasure of being in her courses and love, love learning from you. So thank you for being here!
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Thank you so much for having me.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and I’d love to, you know, just start with maybe sharing a little bit about what you’re most excited about going on right now in your own work.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: The things I’m most excited about right now -- and we’re talking in February 2021 -- 2022, actually. 2022. It’s so disorienting during these days so I try to repeat the date to myself often so that I can situate myself.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: I worked on a conversation series at the end of last year with Stephen Jenkinson. I have a podcast, and we did two podcasts together, and then we did a five conversation series together. He’s almost 70. He’s worked a lot with death and elderhood and culture making, and those conversations were really different for me. They held a lot of spiritual truths that maybe could have been construed as familiar as part of my yoga education and background, but they really struck a totally different chord as well. To me, it feels like he’s doing decolonization work and culture work but without using politically correct -- it’s not incorrect language, it’s just also not leftist recognizable language, and that conversation series was on the heels of trying to have open conversations with people about their positions on vaccines and not being able to because I found that there was no common thread for a conversation even though I wasn't doing it as a fact-checker or journalist; I was just trying to have a human conversation.
So we’re making those conversations into a book, and we’re self-publishing it, and that all just feels very exciting because it feels very renegade on a certain level because my first book is at Shambhala, my second book is at Harper Wave (which is the feminist branch of Harper Collins), and that was a big deal for me to get a big book deal and to have it be in a mainstream press, but it feels very fun to kind of take my stuff back and do it the way that I want to do it. It’s a conversation book which I think is exciting to me because I’ve only really ever read a few conversation books, and they’re kind of in the ecumenical category, so I’m really excited about that.
I’m also really excited -- this year, I’m helping to organize and fund a project called The Fourth Trimester Community Care project where I had this idea long ago, and I spouted it off on a podcast just like this, and when I spouted it off I said, “Anyone who wants this idea, go ahead and take it, ‘cause in this lifetime, I’m not sure I’m gonna be able to do it.” Loe and behold, Katie Baker of Eastern Tennessee State University - School of Community Health called me up and said, “I want to take the idea!” I’m like, “Fantastic!”
So we’re training 40 women who are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are called veteran moms which means they’re not moms of veterans, they just are moms in postpartum care. I’ll go there in July and train them, and they will be matched up with new moms, and so, new moms will have four hours of care per week for six to ten weeks.
Then, we’ll do a study about all of the things that we measure and don't measure right now in terms of what it means to recover postpartum because, as you know and most people listening know, really, the only measure of postpartum health at this point is a six week checkup, and it’s just basically like okay, good. You’re not hemorrhaging, and your organs aren’t falling out, and maybe some people get an internal check and some people don't. Some people get prescriptions, at that point, for birth control or antidepressants, and what we’ve decided to call postpartum care is a mental health checklist.
So people will actually get physiological care. They’ll get body work. They’ll get vaginal steaming. They’ll get some education and good food, and they’ll get care. Then we’ll see -- does that actually impact people’s mental health, and I think you can tell just by your reaction, and also anyone listening, it just makes sense. It’s, like, common sense tells us yeah, okay, if you know someone’s coming to take care of you -- not your baby, not anyone in your house, but you once a week, is that optimal? No, because optimal would be that you had someone caring for you most of the time, but it's sort of the minimal effective dose.
And so, I’m thrilled that we’ll be able to have some data and we’ll have sort of a replicable model that we can take (almost like community-organizing franchises) into other neighborhoods and communities. So I’m pretty pumped about that because even though I’m a trauma practitioner and, originally, a body worker, my heart is really in social justice, and I realized that even more this past weekend.
I was with a friend who is getting a PhD in history, and I can’t even get myself to read a psychology book. I mean, I just couldn't care less about psychology, [laughs] and I’m supposed to -- this is sort of my -- I mean, it really isn't my field because I’m a body person and psychology is -- not that it’s completely different, but you get me into the political science and the history and I’m all in.
So I’m really, really excited. I love working with people one-on-one, and I love the online courses that I teach which is, basically, democratizing nervous system information and sexuality, and I really care a lot about changing structures and creating new community models.
Amanda Testa: That’s so important, and I love that study. I’m excited to hear more about it. It even made me feel a little emotional as you were talking about it, because that seems so necessary and, sadly, so lacking right now. I have a close friend who just had a baby, and especially now in the pandemic of being very isolated and being very afraid to be around others, a lot of us, I think, I know for myself, that experience of internalizing the fear. Is it safe to touch another person, or will I -- you know, will my whole family be exposed, or the real losses that have happened. And so, it’s a lot to hold and manage. When you think about community care I’m like yes, we need that so deeply right now.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Definitely. Of course, now, we’re in a completely different situation than we were two years ago just with our own nervous systems and, what I’ve started calling, social atrophy which is, like, this thing that we know we need to be around people but it’s taking extra effort to make that happen. It feels strange when it does happen even though we know we need it, and it’s like we have to know that that’s what we need, and we have to be able to endure in a way that’s sound for our nervous systems so that we can build our capacity back up to be able to have what we actually need. But, for sure, the reason that the post-partum time captivated me in the first place was because it was the first right of passage that I went though that was so obvious that it was showing me a cultural black hole. Even though my own personal experience was very challenging, I knew even in the moment it was happening this can’t just be about me because I’m a yoga teacher, and I know about my pelvic floor, and I know all these things, and how is it just right now that -- why didn’t I know about any of these things that are happening?
That showed me oh, if I had been sitting in intergenerational circles for my whole life or if I had been sitting around a room with my aunts who each had three children and we were actually together, then this wouldn't be so strange. It wouldn't be so weird. It would be more -- it’s not that it would make it easy, it would just be more congruous.
Amanda Testa: I love that word, congruous. I can feel that. Even just the physical closeness of a lot of experienced, wise people to help you, people that have been through the experience that can talk about it and feel comfortable talking about it, right? I think that’s one of the reasons -- when I first started this podcast, was to talk about things that feel hard to talk about because these conversations are so important and I know in the way I grew up it was very -- a lot of things weren’t talked about, let’s just say.
And so, even though there was, maybe, the people around me, they weren’t sharing the information, necessarily. Yeah, so making it kind of a gift [Laughs] to pass along your wisdom. It really is, yeah.
So I’m wondering too, you know, when it comes to -- I’m just thinking of the social atrophy that you mentioned and the realness of that, and I’m wondering, maybe, if you could share more about that, like, what that looks like for people, if that feels okay.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Mm-hmm. Well, I think I’m just trying to name something that I’m experiencing and that I notice other people experiencing and help people understand, because the nervous system is really my teacher. That sometimes people wonder well, why would I make a choice that was bad for me, right? Because within the nervous system world, we have a principle that is what we are doing is in service of higher organization.
That’s just kind of an overall principle when it comes to healing, especially in the human potential movement, that any attempts that we would make, any action, any habits would be because our system is trying to reorganize, but we can get fooled just like people go back into abusive relationships or choose the same kind of pattern, we can think that familiarity is the thing that’s advantageous for us. And so, we can adapt to things that aren’t, ultimately, advantageous because we get used to them, and then we don’t remember what it feels like to feel connected or to feel safe or to feel connected touch.
You know, yesterday, my daughter had a track meet, and I was sitting in the bleachers, and there was a little girl (she was four years old), and she had the cutest little high-pitched voice. It was such a strange interaction because it brought into relief so many different things at the same time.
I was talking to her a little bit, and she was coming closer and closer, and her mom was telling her to get away from me, but her mom was trying to protect me because she thought I would want personal space. I don't even think it was COVID-related. I think it was just like don't go near this lady you don't know, but I was telling both of them, “No, it’s fine. I like it.” She was talking to me, and she had her little hand on my knee just, you know, being familiar and I was loving it, but her mom was just like, “Come back over here.”
Then I said, you know, “Oh, what songs do you like,” and she named a song that I had never heard of, and then I realized wow, we are in such a weird time because twenty years ago, every four-year-old’s gonna know the range of a few songs, right? You're gonna know “Twinkle, Twinkle.” You're gonna know “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” You’re gonna know “The Sesame Street Theme” song. You’re, maybe, gonna know The Muppets. You’re gonna know some Disney songs, but I realized that she and I actually didn't have any of those things in common.
I said that to her mom, and her mom was like, “Yes, because now someone just makes a TikTok or a YouTube song and that becomes the most popular one, and so, what’s popular is only popular within that age range or someone who has a child at that age.” To me, it was a kind of shocking and strange moment because that would be something that was so easy to normally connect around. Like, let’s sing a song together. What do you like to sing? There wasn't even -- I would have had to teach her a song. I mean, we did sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” together, but that doesn't take very long, so I was trying to build our repertoire.
So I think your original question was about social atrophy, and what I would say is, like, you know, at the end of The Call of The Wild which I turned that book in in October of 2020, so we were only six months into the pandemic, and my plea in that was to remember how to belong to each other and to really remember that touch and proximity is a basic human need, and we were already a touch-starved culture before this happened.
We were already this obsession that people have with personal space, and this obsession -- I mean, right now, it’s so fashionable to defend your introversion and defend that you’re a highly-sensitive person and defend all of your neurodiversity. Who’s even neurotypical? Is anyone neurotypical anymore with the diversity of diagnoses? I understand why those labels are helpful and can help people find resources that they need but recently I’ve just seen people -- it’s like every next person. Ten years ago, it was bipolar II. Now, the fashionable diagnosis is ADHD for adults. I’m like has anyone done, like, a chart correlation of the rise of social media with ADHD ‘cause I’m pretty sure we’re mostly all gonna check those boxes if we’re living within that milieu.
Amanda Testa: Definitely. Yeah.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: I just want people to, number one, understand that exhaustion and reluctance and falling back into the inertia of our bubble is a normal reaction to what we’ve all been through, and it might not be the most functional or adaptive. And so, we need to be stretching ourselves so that it isn’t so exhausting to be around other people and that we realize that we really need each other.
Amanda Testa: We really do, and I think that piece of the belonging to one another touches me in a deep way, ‘cause that’s what I feel I know I need but also know that it’s harder to get in these days, it feels like. And so, I saw something in your email earlier today that I really loved about making ourselves community-worthy, and I think this kind of goes hand-in-hand with that. Why do we stretch ourselves to feel like we can get that need met or be able to, and I’m wondering what you might share about that.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Yes, so I don’t pretend to know what community means. I think we’ve used that word really loosely as a dominant North American culture, and now we have these things like an online community. I don’t actually think you can have a community online because when shit hits the fan, sure, you can write somebody, but they’re not gonna come over and pick you up off the floor and take you to the ER. They’re not gonna be your emergency contact, right? I’m not discounting it. I mean, I run online forums that are definitely helpful especially with sexuality, a topic that people feel very inhibited to talk about, generally, in person. It’s a great intermediary step.
So that to say, I’m an apprentice at best, although there’s sort of nothing to apprentice, so I don’t know if you can be an apprentice without actually apprenticing. I mean, I’m apprenticing the absence of it, perhaps. What I meant by becoming community worthy -- a few years ago -- I grew up very secular, so I grew up going to different kinds of churches, really, all on own accord.
I would beg my parents to go to church, and then I would go with other families. A couple of years ago, my daughter was singing in the choir at church, and so, I liked the music and I thought okay, it was Presbyterian so it’s kind of like all right, that’s the vanilla. We’re not talking anything extreme. So I would go to the church service. It would start with the music, and then it would go onto the sermon, and at the sermon, the children would leave and go to Sunday School which Cece, my daughter, wanted to go to. I would always try to stay for the sermon but, inevitably, like 15 minutes in, something really annoying and offensive would happen, and then I would just be like ugh! It just ruined it! Can’t we just focus on the just whatever?
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: But one of the sermons was about what is church. Like, what actually is church, and that church is the people who are in it. And so, you can’t just rail about the church because, basically, you're expecting other people to make the church because you actually aren't being the church yourself.
That really hit home, ‘cause I was like that’s a totally fair point, and I’d have to really give myself over to this and decide, not just come here and comment on how other people are -- I mean, I wasn't really commenting on the other people, per se, but nothing is perfect. We’re all humans. So I would have to become a part of the imperfect thing so that I could benefit from the things that are not imperfect which is the routine and commitment of being somewhere every week. That’s an amazing thing to have, to know that you don't even have to think. Every Sunday or every Friday or whatever your deal is, that you just know you're gonna be at that place. We don't have many of those things in our white, North-American overculture. We have to create those things now.
So that’s what I meant is if I felt like okay, that was a real wake up call, a sermon that hit me that was like this is true. Church is me. I make the church if I come here, and I decide how I am here, but I would have to opt in to that. Well, I don't have any answers to it but community worthy is -- and none of it is easy because, you know, I’m a person who I love children, love women, love birth, love all of it, and I’m a single mom, so if I wanna go take care of one of my friends postpartum, it’s so hard for me to do. I just canceled a trip two weeks ago that I’d made to go take care of a friend postpartum, and my daughter wasn't doing well, and I’m like I can’t leave my own child to go take care of someone else. That’s messed up. It sucks. It totally sucks because I have the best of intentions, and it feels like oh, well, I’m just choosing my own life, but it’s actually just what has to be. I was ready, you know, to take the week off and buy the ticket and do all of the things.
So we’re in cultural purgatory, and it’s gonna last. It’s not like we’re gonna solve this in one generation. What we’re doing now is, like, can we put the fragments of things so that maybe a couple of generations from now there’s a semblance of something that feels like community. And so, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that, too, that it’s not a personal error or we’re not doing something wrong if we can’t do it right.
For me, I have a standing dinner with a family once a week. So every Thursday, for the last year and a half, I’ve eaten dinner with the same family, and it doesn't matter if my daughter has a test the next day. The only thing that makes us miss it is if we’re out of town, but I even plan my travel around that. I think about it like oh, that’s Thursday. So it’s that important to keep that as an anchor for everything else, and that’s just one thing that I’ve done that feels like it’s community worthy. Sometimes, we invite other people, but we know that that’s happening.
Amanda Testa: That weekly anchor feels like a beautiful ritual to connect to and show up for on a regular basis. It’s interesting ‘cause as you say that I’m just remembering I grew up in a very religious home. You know, we’re Baptists, and there were so many things all the time, right? There was Wednesday night, there was choir, there was church, there was Sunday school, there was all the things, a million things, and, also, a lot of it was maybe messaging that I didn’t 100% resonate with, so then I kind of left that behind in some ways. But remembering, too, there is a very strong community around it, right? Something happens, people are gonna be there. They will bring you food, and they’ll be there in a lot of ways. And so, I feel like in some ways you’re saying that kind of individual piece where people kind of want their personal space and whatnot, but then realizing that’s not really the best thing all the time either, right? We need that community of people in whatever way you can find that, but I think it’s just the showing up consistently and being okay with it being F-ed up a lot of times or not perfect, and the hardness of wanting things to be different in some ways or change to be different or just the challenge of that and sitting with the difficulty of knowing yeah, we can make these small steps, but it’s not gonna, probably make huge differences right away in our generation, right? It’s showing up for it again and again.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Yeah, I call it the best of the worst choices. I feel like we live in the land of the best of the worst choices where everything is a concession in some way, and that’s very exhausting. It’s very exhausting to feel like you’re weighing out all of these things all the time. It’s a consequence and an inheritance of many things, but I think that one really important thing is to evaluate how we view freedom and what the consequences of that view of freedom are. And so, on a daily basis, that can be something that we’re recognizing in ourselves as we make choices and we make rituals and we move towards community because committing to something, some people feel that that takes away their freedom, you know? Well what if I don't like or or what if -- all these things. It doesn't mean you just commit and close your eyes and jump off a cliff or something, you’re committing to something that has qualities in it that are important.
But yeah, what does it mean to live secularly? There were so many shifts and make-a-rounds. I think the yoga studio was really serving the function of church, community center, spiritual teaching, collective movement, and then, now, when we couldn't do those things together (or we couldn’t), and how is that gonna be going forward? Even the thing of -- I mean, you know, you just said your husband works next to you. I think for some people, though, it was like, “Oh, my god, working at home. It’s the best thing ever. It’s freedom. I can work anywhere in the world.” Yes, and what’s on the flip side of that?
For me, I was already working online for a couple of years before the pandemic. I moved from San Diego to New York six months before the pandemic, specifically, for that reason. I was, like, going crazy just having all of the contact that I had online and then parenting, and I really wanted to be around more strangers and be on the street and have more contacts.
So, again, it's just like we’ve been living in a way as if we can travel anywhere when we want to, that money is unlimited, that resources in general are unlimited, and there are certain times of our lives, especially when there’s a sense of weakness which happens when we’re postpartum, that that really shows us what it is. Or something like the pandemic that -- you know, we thought we were free ‘cause we could live anywhere we wanted in the country, and then oh, no, yeah, we’re living anywhere we want, but everyone’s returning to live near their family or to live near their lover or whatever because we don’t have kinship networks that are outside of that.
Amanda Testa: Yes, I’m just nodding like yeah, we don’t, and it’s really sad to me in so many ways. Kind of on this note is having that need for the collective community and also being around others that can help you in regulating your own nervous system. Like, being around people that can just offer that for one another and attuning to one another and helping one another and how, maybe, it’s become a little -- not -- the lack of togetherness, all it’s bringing. But also for myself, too, knowing that one of the beautiful things, I feel like, for a lot of this work that I’ve done around my own healing and just activating my own inner power, so to speak, is just feeling like well, I have more capacity to deal with what comes my way, and I can more easily deal with the hard difficulties that it feels like. I notice so much more now than I used to. Maybe, before, I could be in a social situation and not really be as aware of what it felt like in my nervous system, and now, I realize wow, this used to feel so different because there’s a part of me that might still be afraid or this person just kissed me and hugged me and my body’s not used to that, right?
Just even noticing and naming, like, okay, this feels weird, and that’s normal. That’s gonna be part of the process of coming back to it, just allowing it in ways that feel doable until you can expand your capacity for more and go back to hugging and kissing and feeling good about it, right?
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Definitely. Yeah, small doses. I was just thinking about, today, how tempting it is for all of us to want to jump to the thing that we want to be or act as if we are a certain way, ‘cause I’m teaching a class on attachment next week, and everyone’s into attachment theory, and they're like oh, secure attachment, it’s like The Holy Grail. The worst thing that you can do is pretend you’re securely attached when you don’t feel that way at all, and the best thing that you can do is really know yourself and acknowledge and be able to not feel ashamed of the way that you feel or behave and be able to translate that. Then that itself leads you toward -- that is secure attachment. So it’s really important that we acknowledge where we are without concretizing it, without deciding that’s who we are. Oh, I just don’t like touch.
Now that consent has become a whole industry with a whole bunch of associations attached to it there’s a lot of crustiness around the way to communicate. For instance, that every time you are gonna hug somebody that you should ask them or that you’re acting out of consent and forgetting that we have languages other than speech. Especially for children, it troubles me to see how much we want them to be verbal and communicate with them through words when, really, their first language is touch, their first language is other than words. And so, it’s putting a lot of pressure on them to continually articulate something. Even pleases and thank-yous sometimes. I’m like this is the tyranny of please and thank you.
I’m all about manners, and I think manners are underrated, and I don’t think that in and of itself is manners or having to ask your own child to touch them or insisting on greetings and insisting on hellos and goodbyes. There is a reason why we have some of those, what some people consider formality or outdated etiquette. I think there’s actually a reason for some of those and it has to do with secure attachment. It has to do with boundaries. It has to do with how you orient to space and how you orient to other individuals in the culture, and I think that that’s really important.
Amanda Testa: Definitely. Yeah, I love how one of my teachers, Rachael Maddox, talks kind of about the pollinator and how, you know, we’re really meant to mix and mingle and be in and out and have that feeling that we feel good in. Like, finding the rhythm that feels right and going to fill up in what’s delicious and good and reveling in all that. I think that there is such goodness in being together, and I love the pleasure of that. Feeling into what’s good about it is something that I have been, in my own experience even recently, feeling that need to be in togetherness and also, like you say, having that accountability. Like, well, I’m willing to show up in this way on a regular basis. I’m going to do that, and I’m going to invite whoever wants to be there with me and, you know, continue from there. That feels very good to sit with.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Mm-hmm.
Amanda Testa: Yeah.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Yeah, I mean, we can't heal without being able to feel pleasure, and I think the word pleasure kicks off so many different meanings and associations especially in the North American dominant overculture where suffering is a scarlet letter that -- or maybe it’s not a scarlet letter, it’s a varsity letter that we want higher and higher levels of what we’ve actually been through. That’s kind of evolved in a lot of different directions, but either way, it’s important. I think it’s really mixed like you said at the beginning of this conversation. It’s a both and because we can be finding pleasure at the same time something’s feeling very uncomfortable, and I think that there’s no way around that for the next bit of time and, probably for a while because so many people have had so many different experiences through these two years.
What I’m hoping for is some spaces that emerge (and I’m trying to create them myself) where we really talk about that because I think there’s gonna be, and already is, a desire to just, like, be done with it ‘cause it feels like the only topic on the agenda and just like ugh, I’m so tired of talking about this, but I don’t know that we’re talking about who we were before and who we are now.
I don’t know that we’re talking about what we’ve learned as a result of and how we want to proceed forward informed by what we’ve just been through. That feels extremely important to me. What are the things that you are taking a stand for? Not in that weird way of, like, you gotta take a stand, but what are the things that have shifted for you internally that are new compasses as a result of what you’ve been through and what we’ve all been through.
Amanda Testa: I think that is interesting, ‘cause I was talking to someone the other day, and that conversation of oh, I just want things to be done. I’m over it. And also, yes, but it will never be back the way it was. So also allowing the grief process and allowing -- for me, I know I just recently did this intense grief ritual around all that’s been lost, and that felt important to recognize and name too because there’s a lot that’s different and in some ways good, right? But also, in some ways hard. And so, even if it now feels like people are flaky around making plans because we all have challenges in our nervous systems around being together, if it feels like it’s hard to, I don’t know, find the community in the way you want -- I love that you have to be the church yourself.
You have to create that in some way that feels good to you, and talking about it, right? Yeah.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Yeah, I think we need spaces, for sure, to grieve. There’s a lot to grieve on so many levels for everyone, for our children (if we have children), for the loss of relationships. I mean, so many of my friendships didn’t make it through the pandemic for me, for the life that I was trying to -- I moved to New York to create community, and that just didn’t -- everyone scattered and yeah, so many futures that we thought maybe we were going in a direction, and those directions aren’t possible anymore.
For me, I am abstaining from travel, pretty much. I have to go to Brazil or, at least, I feel like that I do ‘cause my daughter’s father lives there and my boyfriend also lives there, and he doesn't have a U.S. visa, but as far as somewhere like Hawaii, I just feel that, for me, this experience showed me what the planet is doing with less air travel and less movement altogether.
To me, that feels like a directive. As I was saying earlier, it feels like a limit. It feels like something I was shown, and those dreams of showing my daughter this place or that place, that those might just have to live in the realm of dreams of something that used to be possible and used to be coherent and isn’t anymore. So that’s something that I’m personally sitting with and, you know, of course my parents the other day were like, “Let’s do a family reunion in Hawaii,” and I was like, “I don't think I’m going to Hawaii anymore. I don't think that --,” and they’re like, “Why, COVID?” And I’m like, “No, ‘cause of the history of colonialism and tourism and what tourism does.” My mom’s like, “You have to go there. They survive on tourism,” and I’m like, “No, at some point you have to pull the plug.”
At some point we have to disengage from these luxuries and systems. If not now, when? It’s hard to know ‘cause it’s like everything. Oh, does me not having single-use plastic really help when airlines serve water in plastic cups and each person takes three? We’re just straddling these individual collective questions in so many ways, but I do think it’s important to talk about, otherwise the appetite for amnesia is just too strong.
Amanda Testa: Mm-hmm, yeah, and amnesia is an easy thing for people to connect to, and also that what difference will it make if I do this, but it makes a huge difference. I even think that’s like healing ourselves and going through our own, I guess, flourishing after going through challenging experiences or finding that post-traumatic growth. There is such beauty in doing that, individually, and also in how that serves the collective in doing that work for yourself too.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Right.
Amanda Testa: ‘Cause I think the small pieces of what we do make a huge difference even though it might not seem like it.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Mm-hmm.
Amanda Testa: Like if I’m using my cloth bag but the airlines are using 15,000 tons of plastic, that’s okay because there’s a little bit less, right? Yeah, it’s interesting to think of. I’d love to know, too -- I so value the work you do in the world and how you support women and people that are looking for ways to navigate all these things, and really working with our nervous systems to do that, and having all these important conversations. So I would love if you share a little bit more about what’s upcoming for you, how people can connect with you, and get support in that way too.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Yeah, so, you know, I kind of put everything on the chopping block after last year when my Call of The Wild came out and it was kind of like well, knowing everything that I know now about the world and about some common languages that we gained -- two years ago people didn't have a racialized common language nationally.
So now that we have more of a common racialized language, what’s really relevant, and I still do think -- well, you know, ‘cause like everyone I’ve had my own existential crises. I doubt anyone who’s been through the last two years has not. In the course Activate Your Inner Jaguar: Real World Understanding of Your Nervous System, it makes it through the chopping block because I still do feel that it is essential, no matter if we’re doing personal or collective work, that we know what’s happening with our nervous system because our nervous system is pretty much dictating most of what we’re saying and doing and communicating to other people whether we know it or not.
So I’m teaching that course three times this year and then every October I teach a sex edition. So it’s a longer-form, three-month course that specifically works on boundaries. But the nervous system material is really foundational for the sexuality work. So some people are like I just want to get to the sexuality stuff, understood, and I used to teach more of that just straight off the bat, but I found that because it’s just such a charged topic for almost all of us, it’s really helpful to have those baseline skills.
Nervous system maybe doesn't sound so sexy, although I think it does, but, you know, that’s ‘cause I nerd out on this stuff. It really is what makes great sex. The tools for understanding how to communicate about what’s happening inside of you. When what you’re feeling is a sensation, when it’s an emotion, when it’s an image that you have, when it’s just a thought, knowing that and being able to sort it and also knowing how to take your energy up or take it down, those are foundational skills for how you can have great sex with anyone. So it’s crucial.
So yeah, I’m teaching that. I’m teaching Mother Circle. I teach Mother Circle once a year, and this year, I’m gonna train people to facilitate Mother Circles. That’s what I can think of. When the pandemic began on March 15th, that April I taught a Jaguar in the quarantine. I called it Jaguar in the Time of Cholera, and it was kind of a special addition with a sliding scale so you could pay $99, and we had 2 classes a week, and I brought in guest teachers.
So I’m gonna do kind of a revival of that where I have guest teachers and they’re gonna be more in the chrone direction, ‘cause I do feel like it’s also time to be calling in the inner-generational wisdom, especially with social media dominating so much and generations having just social media as a reference which is so youth-directed. So yeah, then, you know, I’ve got my usual podcast, but I’m trying to take much better care of myself which really just means being an adequate judge of what I can actually do because I’m full of fire and full of creative ideas that are mostly really good ones, and I’m a terrible judge of how much I can actually really do so I say yes to a ton of things, and then all of a sudden I have to say no to a lot of things because it’s just too many things.
I’m 47, and I started having a lot of hot flashes last year, and then found out that they weren’t menopause, that it was just stress. So I was frying my own nervous system in the process of educating other people and running a business and being a single parent. I’m committed to my own nervous system and I feel that’s a feminine way of running a business and being transparent about that because if I were just to, you know, not talk about that at all and keep my editorial calendar and keep it going, that’s not exactly what I’m teaching people which is that there’s phases of life and there’s phases of life that we don’t expect, and there’s ones that we can expect.
I had a really great -- I taught with Peter Levine who’s the founder of Somatic Experiencing, and there was about 20 women on the call who were assistants, and they were all in their 40s and 50s and 60s.
I started having hot flashes repetitively while I was teaching, and it was so cool ‘cause they were all private messaging me going, like, “You got this!” “Ride that wave!” “Go ahead and pause,” and giving me all this hot flash advice. But I’d never watched anyone have a hot flash. I mean, my mom once said she was getting hot, but I was kind of like she’s just exaggerating. I felt like the guy on broadcast news, that guy that just sweats all the time. My face was bright red. So I was kind of getting eldered by all of these women who were assistants saying, “Yeah, ride the wave. You know the wave metaphor, well here it comes! Okay, let yourself come all the way down,” and really modeling that in real time for the people who were on the call, too, that I’m not just gonna push through this and act like it’s not happening and act as if I’m totally normal right now even though you can obviously see that I’m not.
Amanda Testa: I love that. Normalizing that we have to honor what our bodies are experiencing, and that’s kind of culturally, like you say, especially here in the US and our culture of white supremacist extraction, do you give beyond your means, give it all away, just give yourself ‘til thre’s nothing left.
I see that a lot with women, specifically, and also, in their businesses, I see so many burnt out, overwhelmed, just exhausted, depleted people because, I think, we haven’t been taught to listen to that. We’ve just been taught to override it, and I love that you normalize that and talk about it and honor it. So yeah. [Laughs] I’m 48, and the hot flashes are not fun. I’ve just had a few, but now I know why my mom would open the freezer and stick her head in there. She’s like, “Oh, my god. I’m having a flash!” and go right to the freezer.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: For me, they’re not bad. It’s just one of those experiences where your body is doing something. Now I can tell what sets one in motion ‘cause it is stress for me so I can tell, but it was a very specific thing.
So it wasn't pain or discomfort, it was more surprise and a little bit of embarrassment that it was happening so visibly, but also, I’m super grateful because there’s no reason to have hot flashes like that. I mean, yes, there is a reason. The reason is I have an incredibly adept radar, at the moment, to tell me so that I -- my body is just telling me in real time, “Don’t have this conversation. Don’t commit to this thing. Don’t do this.” And so, for me, I know my experience is -- and I don’t know what your hot flashes are like, but I feel that my impression, there’s so much negativity about menopause out there, and it’s easy to take on when it doesn't have to be like that. There’s a reason that it’s happening. Just like postpartum, our system is more sensitive, and in a yin time, we need to be more internal. I’ve described it as I feel somewhat like an invertebrate right now and I need a shell.
That’s very much the postpartum time too. I’m being remade, and there’s a new thing happening. There’s so much incentive to override and almost no incentive to do the opposite, almost no incentive to stop. It doesn't feed your ego, it doesn't feed your pocketbook, none of it. So it’s important that we claim that for ourselves, and I did that so much politically throughout my life. I read bell hooks in my late teens and it was all about the oppositional gaze, and so, that was so clear to me, and it was very clear to me, also, as a woman, like, I’m not letting mainstream media determine how I think I should look about my body, but this is another level of oppositional gaze to say and I’m also not gonna take on what that visibility means or what I’ve internalized as success at a different phase. There’s a big part of me that feels like maybe the most successful thing I could do right now is become inconsequential.
And so, I’m pondering that, but at the moment I have six people that I employ and a lot of other considerations like most people do. Like I said, we’re in purgatory. There’s no easy choice. There’s no easy opt-out. We have to figure it out a little bit at a time and find the sanctuaries where we really feel that secure, resonant community, and then remember that feeling tone and imprint it, and do our best to put out those little signals.
Amanda Testa: Yep. So beautiful. I love that. Thank you. Yeah, and I’m wondering is there any question that you wish that I’d asked that I didn't ask or any other thoughts or anything else you want to share?
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Well, I know that a lot of people listen to your podcast based on sexuality, and so, I think that one thing I wish that people would remember more than it seems that they do or, at least, the people that I work with, is that our sexuality isn't separate from everything else that’s happening in our life, our relationship, and the world.
So this idea that what empowered sexuality is is whatever one’s version of that -- I mean, the most common version I see of it is that you wear red or black lacy lingerie and maybe you do sex magic rituals and you feel comfortable girating in front of your Instagram camera, and that is, in and of itself, expressive for you.
I would expect at this point of where we are culturally, that most of us would need a lot more holding and contact at a lower level of intensity before getting to a higher level of intensity that felt like that was going to be nourishing over time. It’s not because I come from a moralistic place about it because I think that, eventually, we all want to be able to create -- healthy sexuality is different for every person, what that is for each person, but I see a lot of people -- and I’ve had the experience, too, in the past where you haven’t dated for a while and then you go on a date and all of a sudden you start to feel like well, I like this person well enough.
This might be the only chance I have. Okay, I’m going to give this guy a blowjob because, like, at least there’s contact and at least I can do it right now. You’re more likely to end up in a scenario afterwards where you’re like oh, maybe I went a little bit beyond what I wish that I would because I just wanted it so bad which is totally normal. The same goes for phase of life. I don’t think it’s prescriptive. When I talk about where I’m at with my sexuality right now, which is that I feel like the automatic arousal that used to happen for me most of the time feels a little bit farther away. Not all the time, but some of the time. then people go well, is that always true for perimenopause?
No, not at all. I mean, there are some people who are in sexless marriages for 20 years and hit perimenopause and are, like, freaking off the roof with their arousal and desire and availability and creativity and exploration. There’s no prescription. I think that it’s one of the beauties of the human experience.
Since I’m in a female body, for me, the female and feminine experience that I particularly have and that I notice in the people that I work with who are primarily female bodies who identify as women is that our spiritual path and our sexual path tend to be running paralell with each other. And so, I think knowing that we can have many sexual selves and we can have many incarnations of who we are sexually -- not just oh, there’s the sort of what we might consider an immature view of sexuality which is, you know, where you -- I don’t know Immature might not be the right word, but the norm in a view of sexuality that’s now changing but was there for quite a long time which is that, like, what makes you good at sex, how people think they can be good at sex, that we would even be beyond that.
I have so many people that come to me, and they want me to make them or help them want sex, but the reason they don’t want it is because of the person they’re with or because of some other thing that’s happening in their life. I’m not being very clear right now, but what I’m trying to say is that so many people want to be a multi-orgasmic, tantric goddess. Awesome, yes, and there’s usually a lot of steps -- the person that you’re gonna have sex with actually influences being a multi-orgasmic, tantric goddess. Your health actually influences that. Where you are in your motherhood journey influences that. Sometimes people don't realize oh, the reason that I’m pushing my partner away is actually ‘cause I’m afraid of getting pregnant. It seems obvious, but it doesn't come to the conscious surface because the thing has become such a contentious thing that that’s what becomes the focus.
So I don’t know if maybe you can make sense out of what I’m saying.
Amanda Testa: Yes.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Especially coming out of the pandemic, sex involves touch, it involves proximity, it involves trust. We don’t have a lot of practice at negotiating those things, verbally or otherwise. And so, I want people to recognize that they might want to protract and stretch out some of these qualities that are involved in sex -- companionship, desire, proximity, touch, arousal. I would just imagine that, like the grieving, there’s more of that being-ness that could infuse our encounters.
Amanda Testa: Very much so. You know, I like how you said everyone wants to be the multi-orgasmic, tantric goddess or whatever, but yet there’s a lot that has to happen before that.
A lot of people are like, well, I want this, but, yes, there’s the unsexy part that has to happen first, right?
Kimberly Ann Johnson: And there’s a lot of unsexy stuff that happens along the way. Even when you are that, right?
Amanda Testa: Exactly!
Kimberly Ann Johnson: That’s the whole thing is people think oh, good sex means you're just having a good time all the time and it’s just pleasure, pleasure, pleasure and it’s just more, more, more, and that’s not really what good sex is.
Amanda Testa: Right.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: It is that some of the time, but good sex is good life. Life is big and huge and things happen, and our bodies change, and we have injuries, and people hurt our feelings. There’s just so many things, and they come up unexpectedly. I just taught that class on lingerie and the nervous system, and I told this story about this time that I asked one of my boyfriends to buy me lingerie which is, like, no one had ever bought me some, and I wanted him to buy it for me, and I told him what I wanted.
Then we went to a hotel, and the box of lingerie was on the bed, and it was everything I asked for. Then I went in the bathroom and I put it on, and I came out, and I just had a total shame wave come over me, and all of a sudden I felt like it was ridiculous. I felt like I looked ridiculous, and I felt like it was ridiculous, and then I started to shake. He’s looking, and then I’m feeling awful ‘cause I asked for this, and he did exactly what I asked, and I should be so grateful, but I’m actually feeling completely confused. That wasn’t, like, 25 years ago, but that was a long way along my path of many very sexually expressed and healthy attitudes. We’re not robots. We’re very complex, amazing creatures who have multiple responses, and there can be all kinds of things that arise.
That’s what I want people to understand about trauma, too. We don’t just heal our trauma and then we check the box and we’re just all good because that’s the problem with trauma becoming, also, a concretized industry.
It’s just a part of being alive, and if we expect that it’s not, then we start racking up the reasons why we need to be medicated or we need therapy or we need all these things when, actually, we just need a deeper, wider net of understanding of what it actually means to just be totally alive.
Amanda Testa: Yes, the aliveness piece encompasses so much of it. It’s like yes, we have all these different aspects, and being able to kind of understand and flow with the way they come in and out. There’s gonna be pain, there’s gonna be conflict, there’s going to be challenges, there’s going to be grief, and it can all be encompassed. There’s going to be joy, there’s going to be pleasure, and there’s a place for it all, and kind of navigating through it all moment-to-moment knowing that we’re gonna have different experiences to the same thing. If it’s the exact same way it’s presented one time, you know, and you try to recreate it the same exact way, you're gonna have a different experience. It’s just how we are, and there’s such beauty in knowing there’s never a destination to get to.
It’s just like how can I enjoy more of all that’s available to me and be present to it in a way that feels accessible with it, that feels doable. [Laughs] I think that’s so key. Yeah, thank you. Oh, and I appreciate that too about, you know, it’s not what you think it looks like, right? it’s all the ways, and I know from my own experience. People who listen to the podcast know my husband had a stroke right before COVID. And so, that was a long cycle of just all kinds of things, and stress will totally deplete your so many things. It’s so hard to want to want to do things when you’re not feeling well. So it’s just understanding yeah, there’s a lot going on, and it’s okay if you are having a hard time with it, and there are ways to digest it and be in community and find ways to feel good and enjoy all the flavors of it that are available. Yeah, and I‘m excited to check out the book, too, ‘cause I loved your interviews with Stephen Jenkinson, and I’m excited to hear how those turn out as well.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Awesome.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and I just appreciate you and your time. Thank you for being here.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Thank you so much. Thank you for the invitation.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and I’ll make sure to just share in the show notes where everyone can connect with you and digest all your lovely offerings if they so choose.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: That’s awesome. Thank you so much.
Amanda Testa: You’re welcome, and thank you, too, all for listening. Are there any last words or anything else that you feel like you’d like to share? I know we’re coming up on our time, so I want to honor that for you.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Well, I think it’s really helpful when any of us have the thought, “I bet I’m the only person who feels this way,” to just flip that and say, “I bet a lot of people are feeling this way.” I learned that when I had a breakup and my mind kept telling me that I bet my ex-boyfriend was doing way better than me, and I bet that he had a relationship already, and I bet he this. Then I just flipped the thought and said I bet he’s having a really hard time. It’s in his own way, but I bet he’s also having a really hard time.
That, somehow, just sort of cut it, and I just noticed that we tend to think oh, I’m the only one experiencing this or that’s a big deal. Your husband had a stroke. That’s gnarly. Not that everyone else is experiencing that, but I bet other people are experiencing really hard things too. Not as a spiritual bypass or to give yourself a reason to not feel bad, but on a really visceral level, on a social nervous system level, that’s what tells us I still belong. I’m not an alien to this. I also have things that are -- other people are also experiencing things. You know, I live in Southern California. It looks like everyone’s having a perfect time. People look great. Most people have not lost any income. Everyone’s still surfing and talking about it. It looks like I live in Disneyland, basically, so it can be harder to remember no, everyone’s going through stuff.
Amanda Testa: Yeah, and it’s just connecting in that way. The belonging piece, right? Also, moving through it knowing you don't have to be in it alone.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Yeah.
Amanda Testa: Thank you.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Thank you.
Amanda Testa: All righty, well I will look forward to talking with you all next week, and thank you so much again, Kimberly for being here.
Kimberly Ann Johnson: Yeah, thank you. Nice to meet you.
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Amanda Testa: Thank you so much for listening to the Find Your Feminine Fire podcast. This is your host, Amanda Testa, and if you have felt a calling while listening to this podcast to take this work to a deeper level, this is your golden invitation. I invite you to reach out. You can contact me at amandatesta.com/activate, and we can have a heart-to-heart to discuss more about how this work can transform your life. You can also join us on Facebook at the Find Your Feminine Fire group, and if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please share with your friends.
Go to iTunes and give me a five-star rating and a rating and a raving review so I can connect with other amazing listeners like yourself. Thank you so much for being a part of the community.
[Fun, Empowering Music]