The Womanologist Dion Johnston is Bristolian by birth, born to Jamaican immigrants. She says she feels very fortunate to have this mixed heritage. Dion was also born with a facial disfigurement and went through a host of operations during her early childhood to try and ‘make her look normal’. It has been a long and challenging journey to allow herself to be truly seen, and throughout her career, first as a midwife and then as a performance coach, she has always been called to work and support women in leadership roles.
Sue: Welcome Dion, it’s such a pleasure to talk with you about your work as The Womanologist and your vision for how all of us can begin to live more consciously for a better world especially as we are facing such immense changes.
Dion: Yes, I feel that everything is shaking and beginning to fall apart. But where things are shaking, I believe we are also being given opportunities to decide what we’re going to let go of, and what we’re going to embrace as we move forward.
Sue: It’s a painful process though because we’re talking about death, loss, insecurity and chaos. And not being in control.
Dion: Well, I say it’s like a paradox. I was thinking as I was walking through the park just now about how afraid we are of pain and hurt. Yet the paradox is that such beautiful things come from pain, death, loss and letting go. I have a really strong sense that something marvellous is happening among us and it’s wrapped up in this pandemic; it’s wrapped up in all the chaos and confusion we’re experiencing. It’s actually moving us to somewhere else.
Sue: It has to. I think we all realise we can’t go on as we are. I’m like you, I’m incredibly curious about where all this is going.
Dion: There’s no doubt about that and we are seeing this playing out right now. It’s so good to acknowledge it because if we accept we are co-creators, then we must be! It forces us to see where the ugliness we’re creating on the outside is residing on the inside of us. I think it’s like a mirror. We get to reflect what’s happening inside us collectively.
Sue: Yes. I’m absolutely with you on this because I can’t see how else we can start to live more consciously for a better world.
Dion: I think that women need to wake up and realise our power to influence the world. At the moment I feel like we’re living in a very masculine cold world. Our systems are predicated on lies that are required for humans to be cold and ruthless to one another – for example, the lies that some people matter, and some people don’t matter. Some people are superior and other people are inferior – these lies are required for the system to work. A system which creates massive winners and massive losers. This system needs to transform its thinking into how we can all win and how it can become better for all of us. I believe this is where the voice of the women comes in.
Sue: I think the system, as it is currently, has been constructed to sell us this dream that one day we might make our lives better through what we can ‘get’ for ourselves. But it’s an illusion because we only make it better by becoming much more aware of ‘us’ rather than ‘me.’ It’s about community building.
Dion: Yes, I think that we can see this right now. I think what COVID-19 has done is to take off the veil of ‘us,’ ‘them’ or ‘me.’ 2020 was a year that really busted and debunked the myth that somehow, it’s okay to be in my space whilst other people over there are suffering and hurting. As we’ve seen, if the pandemic is happening over there, it’s only a matter of time before it happens over here too.
This is the tenant of higher consciousness – that we are connected; that what’s happening with my brother affects me. We’re not exclusive. We’re not separate. We’re not distinct. We are one. And I can’t be truly okay if you’re not. I think that’s what we saw in the Harry and Megan interview. I know that people took different things away from the interview, but what I saw the loudest was fear. I don’t have any reason to call them liars, so I just accepted what they said, and what I heard from those young people was how this fear was due in part at least to the removal of their security. That spoke really loudly to me and whether we like it or not, we have to remember that historically the Royal Family’s wealth is built on the back of some harsh colonialism.
Sue: I think everybody concerned is suffering. Harry and Meghan just blew things out of the water. I actually feel incredibly sad for the Queen, who at the age of ninety-four is watching how the whole of what she inherited at such an early age is disintegrating before her eyes. But I also see it as just more disintegration that we are seeing right across the world.
Dion: Yeah. I think that God is not sleeping! And, I also think that we are reaping what we have sown. It’s not distinguishing whether we are old, young, black or white. There’s no getting away from this. We have to acknowledge how we treat each other and how we have treated the planet.
Sue: Have you always felt like this?
Dion: As a child I had a strong sense of truth, righteousness, fairness and justice. I had spiritual eyes that could see when somebody was saying something that was a lie. Sometimes as a child, I would play a game where I could sense that those words were going to somehow ensnare them later on and I just waited patiently to see how it would happen. I wasn’t backwards in pointing it out either. I always got in such trouble for it because it put people’s backs up. But even though I didn’t know it at the time, and I didn’t have any mastery over it, it was actually a gift.
Sue: I think all of us have the gift of this underline feeling of what’s true and what’s not. But the way that we’re educated, we get closed down to our very strong intuition that, ‘hang on a minute, something doesn’t feel right here.’ It took me a long time to wake up to my truth again. When did that happen for you?
Dion: My turning point was 2009. I remember it vividly because it was the year Obama, the black man, moved into the White House. It was such a huge deal. Everyone was talking about real change, like in real possibilities happening. However, in the UK, we were officially in an economic slump where many people were facing the breadline or the gutter. So, at one end there were these high-level functioning human beings doing extraordinary things, and then there was the rest of us who were experiencing this economic slump. I found myself in the middle of that thinking, ‘Which group do I belong to?’
I had this incredibly strong sense that I was supposed to do something important in the world – to make some kind of difference. But comparing my life with people like Obama I found myself getting more and more disgruntled. Then, right in the middle of all this my aunt died. It was a huge death because she was like my second mum and her children were like my brothers and sisters as we grew up. So, lots happened around losing my aunt, but one of the main things that happened was seeing somebody who I hadn’t seen for a long time. She had a ten-year-old son who I hadn’t met. He took one look at me and blurted out, ‘Mum, she’s so ugly.’
Sue: Oh, my goodness.
Dion: It really hurt because I was born with a facial disfigurement. All my life, my appearance has been an issue. When I was four years old, after lots of corrective surgery on my face, I was gifted with an artificial eye and dark glasses to try and help me look a bit more normal. So, this boy’s words really took me back there. Then the following day at church these kids tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to my face and laughed.
I found myself literally on the floor on my knees with my hands up in the air and just crying out with such grief and pain not just for the loss of my aunt but also for reminding me that I had this disfigured face and there was something wrong with me. It was such an intense time and I ended up having a profound spiritual conversation with God. Then these questions started coming at me, such as ‘When are you going to let people see the real you?’ ‘When are you going to show up for real?’ ‘When are you going to take this mask off?’ ‘When are you going to speak your truth, Dion?’ I thought, ‘What kind of stupid questions are these?’ because I’d been wearing my artificial eye and dark glasses for forty years. I had never let anybody see me without them. And, here I was being really challenged to confront whether I was being called to make a difference or I was in the other group.
I didn’t realise that all of this was pointing me to the answer that yes, I am somebody, and I do have a life and I need to show up for it. This meant I needed to take my mask off and let people literally look at me – no artificial eye and no dark glasses.
Sue: What was it like for you when you actually took the glasses off for the first time and left your eye out?
Dion: Terrifying. But I did it in stages and got support through a specialist coach who worked with a charity that helps people with facial disfigurements. I told the coach that I felt as if I was being divinely called to let people see what I really looked like and to show up in the world for real.
Sue: How did your coach respond to that?
Dion: She said, ‘Well, that’s unusual. Usually, people come because they want to camouflage their disfigurements!’ During my work with her, I uncovered some deep fears that people were going to be repulsed by me and that I was going to encounter cruelty, or that people were going to actually vomit or laugh at me or embarrass me in some way. We then made a plan.
The very first thing I did was to open the front door to the gas man without my artificial eye or dark glasses. And, you know, the gas man just said, ‘Good morning,’ sort of bustled into the door with his big bag and began tinkering around with the boiler. I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea and he said, ‘No thanks love, just had one.’ We had some more small talk and then he left.
Sue: Wow. That must have been such a huge moment for you. And, the gas man had no idea and didn’t flinch!
Dion: No, he didn’t.
Sue: You and I have met a couple of times now, and you seem utterly confident in who you are and how you look.
Dion: Yeah, I can be like this due to this powerful journey I’ve been on. People will say I’ve always been mouthy, and always confident. But back then it was outward bravado hiding, ‘I know I’m ugly, unlovable and a huge disappointment, but I’m not going to let you know that.’ Since my aunt died, I’ve been on this incredible journey of self-discovery and I’ve learned to love myself. I also learned that I am in that group of people who are called to make a difference in the world. So, now what you see is confidence, not bravado.
Sue: Does being different help you with the work you do to empower other women?
Dion: I work in the area of leadership development. Authentic leadership is a buzzword, but nobody can teach it like me, nobody. The path I’ve walked has really elevated me into a league of my own. My story, my experiences, my pain, my healing journey, my self-discovery have all informed my work. It’s a bit like learning to swim. You can read the books and look at pictures, but you still don’t know how to swim until you get into that water. Brene Brown tells us it’s all about showing up for real. I know this terrain intimately and that’s what makes me unique in my work.
Sue: Tell me how you became The Womanologist. I love the name.
Dion: My background is midwifery. I spent decades being alongside women in pregnancy and childbirth. I learned about the power of humanity in that space, but I left to go into coaching. Yet, even as I was navigating the business world, I was still gravitating towards being alongside women. It’s where I felt I belonged in the world. It’s what I was born to do, who I was born to serve. Women often say in their feedback that they came because of work-life balance or they were experiencing conflict with their boss or they had lost their career direction, but it turned out that they felt touched, healed and restored through their sessions being woman to woman. One client said, ‘You know, it’s like you’re a woman’s doctor. And that’s how the title The Womanologist came about.
It’s so powerful to understand who you are and what you are here to do. The biggest privilege of my journey is just this, clarity and peace around the fact that I’m called to make a difference in womankind. I’ve got such strong beliefs about the need for women’s healing in the world, especially at a time like this.
Sue: Well, it is time for us to step up now because the patriarchy doesn’t work.
Dion: I would say toxic patriarchy isn’t working.
Sue: Yes, that’s really true. We need to learn to stand shoulder to shoulder with our men.
Dion: That’s why I think patriarchy bashing isn’t the answer. In my experience of getting behind the mask with my clients, we are best when we are well supported by strength, integrity and love. When we are really supported, womanity is unstoppable in her power. So, I don’t think being led and supported by men is the issue. I think being led and supported by sick, toxic men and masculinity is the problem. That’s what needs to be addressed clearly.
Sue: I completely agree with you.
Dion: Yeah. I think this breakdown that’s happening all around the world is part of addressing the toxicity that we’ve had to live with for thousands of years. We’re being called to take the mask off and clean up our act.
Sue: I certainly think social media has a lot to answer for. We’re not being encouraged to be who we really are. We’re just being encouraged to project ourselves outward and to look a certain way. How do you see our relationship with social media?
Dion: In 2009 when I was learning to take off my mask, I took all my pictures down from social media. My face was bare, and it felt really challenging to show myself in my business world. It was so painful to think that people would be looking at me without my mask on and how social media creates this pressure to look a certain way. But this was the journey that I was actually on. Learning how to love myself. Learning how to see that I’m much more than my appearance.
The more I owned it the more my influence went up. I began to receive letters from women all around the world, literally saying, I don’t have a face like yours, but I completely understand this mask wearing thing and to be comparing myself with everyone. So, the message I work with is about relieving women of that obligation to fight and try and be like somebody else – because who they are is much more powerful.
Sue: It’s really interesting because as you’ve been talking it has reminded me of my aging process and the pressure to continue to look ‘amazing’ no matter how old you are. It’s about image all the time, so how do we start to just respect the journey of life for what it is?
Dion: I think you have to come to a place where you want to create your own narrative; that you want to explore what things really mean. For example, we’ve talked about patriarchy, but most people don’t really know what they are talking about. They just say it because everybody else is talking about it. I find this very superficial. We hear the narrative; we are fed the narrative; we adopt the narrative; we repeat the narrative parrot fashion. But, we need to examine the narrative and then make decisions on what we call truth.
So I’m encouraging all of us to slow it down. Take a breather, have a look, and think what do I really think about this?
Sue: I don’t think we know how to think anymore. We are so spoon-fed by the government and the mainstream media around what we ought to think and how we ought to behave – especially with Covid.
Dion: My point is that to be a grown up, you have to decide not to be passive. It’s making the decision, how will I live my life? How can I become conscious? How do I become an independent thinker? Maybe somebody reading these words will suddenly wake up, because this is what happens. Life also often slaps us with an illness or a bereavement or death, but you know you are being called to wake up from this passive, trance-like state of living life, and to be actively engaged in it.
Sue: It can be a lonely place to be when you start waking up. That’s always been my experience in my own journey. But the other thing is, it’s very courageous to actually go against the flow of the mainstream and to say, for example, within the family dynamic, ‘this doesn’t feel right to me anymore.’
Dion: Yes, support is the key. When I decided that I was going to show up for real – to let people see the real me when I went through as I called it, my week of hell, and now look at it as my week of heaven – I sought help. It is critical to get help when you are deciding that you are going to no longer live your life in this half-alive trance. This enabled me to open my front door to the gas man.
Sue: I have a feeling that when someone wakes up like this, the Universe does a great big hurrah! It was extraordinary when it happened to me how things just kind of fell into my lap and I met new people who could take me to the next step. I found the journey immensely challenging but also very exciting.
Dion: It’s like night and day. It’s such a different way of being because it activates your co-creativity where impossible things become possible – things that would never have entered your mind. You start seeing opportunities and doors swing open, and coincidences happen. I think that when you set yourself in the direction of your awakened life things just start moving and you have to ask yourself, ‘Who am I supposed to be?’ Who am I born to be? What is my destiny?
Sue: I host a podcast called Embracing Your Mortality because for me, unless we embrace our mortality, we don’t really ever start living. How do you feel about that?
Dion: A couple of weeks ago I had an experience that really brought this back into sharp focus. I woke up in the middle of the night with a shooting pain in my head and I felt as if I was violently flinging myself around the room and I couldn’t make it stop. I just knew that something was really very wrong, and I needed to get to the hospital. I had a CT scan and while waiting for the results back on the ward, a whole entourage of doctors came running towards me. They released the brakes on my bed and pushed me back to the scanning department – one explaining that I needed to have another scan – Right Now! They had seen something that concerned them, but nobody was really telling me what was happening. They all disappeared when I was about to have the CT scan because it’s radioactive, and I’m lying there thinking something is really wrong. I actually felt like I was going to die.
Then I began to wonder what I was going to do with the fact that this might be my last moments. And I decided that I was not going to be afraid, and I was going to cherish each breath. I decided, ‘I’m going to give myself over to whatever it is that happens today and breathe as long as I can.’ Then I started to talk to God. I said, ‘You know, if my time has come, I’m not going to fight it.’ But I also said, ‘I know I’m not done living. I know that there’s so much more that I want to do, and so many people’s lives that I want to touch. There are so many women who still need to wake up. I want to build a legacy.’ Thankfully the doctors ruled out any serious problem.
Sue: That’s an extraordinary experience.
Dion: Yes. It’s just a few short weeks ago, but I haven’t forgotten it. It’s woken me up to the finiteness of this path and I’m not afraid. I accept that I’m going to die, but I want to use this time as fully as I can. I’ve got so much I want to leave for my daughter and my granddaughter and the women that I’m here to serve. I want to do my part.
Sue: That’s my own experience too. But I also think it’s important to say that not everyone has to have dramatic experiences in order to wake up to this.
Dion: Yes, yes, definitely. You can have it just walking in nature. I think we’re all being called and so we need to decide how we’re going to answer. There’s so much noise – life is so noisy and so busy that for some of us the call will happen but we’re not hearing it because we’re too busy to listen. The problem is that the call is very persistent! It doesn’t stop. It will whisper, and then it will speak and then it will shout, and then it will thump you.
So, we need to make space to listen to what we are being called to do. And, you know, this really does fly in the face of how we’ve been living. We want to be so in control. We want to be knowledgeable. We don’t want to step into places where we don’t feel competent or confident. This is why we need to be really mindful because this path calls us into higher levels of ourselves that we haven’t mastered yet.
Sue: The whole thing about the call is you’re never in control of your life again and there’s something greater than us at play.
Dion: I feel like it’s going from being the pilot in a plane to becoming the actual plane. When we understand that our lives are destined to do more, and we may have no idea what that is right now, we can take leadership.
Sue: And, it could be that our calling is, for example, to nurture a child’s life so they can take leadership. So, it might not be about us stepping out, but our calling is to help and nurture someone else to do that.
Dion: Yes! When you grow up, when you step over to adulthood, you are being called to care for other people apart from yourself. It’s not just about you anymore. This is the responsibility that comes with adulthood. This is critical. Growing up means finding out how I can give to my world.
A note from Sue: Thank you for visiting this page. You may be interested in my Granny Mo children’s books, which help adults to talk with children about death and dying, and my books for adults on death and dying may help as well. You can also listen to a host of fascinating guests on my Embracing Your Mortality podcast and enjoy reading their interviews on my blo