What is Empowerment?

What is Empowerment?

What is Empowerment? 900 600 Sharna Fabiano

Isaac and I sometimes joke that we moved to California not for me to earn my MFA but so that I could meet Amy Lombardo, the gifted teacher and mentor who has supported me through many deeply rewarding, if scary, artistic and professional changes over the past five years. Joking aside, I truly do believe that Amy and I were guided to connect here in LA by some unseen, intelligent life force. Her yoga classes kept my body and spirit integrated throughout my intense graduate school years. Post-degree, I completed her yoga teacher training in 2014, and her Brilliance coaching certification in 2016. Each of these intensive learning experiences with Amy, without question, made me a more courageous, creative, and compassionate person.

I asked her for this interview because I think many of you may feel inspired by her way of seeing the world and all of us in it. One of the things that she is really amazing at is helping others cultivate profound connection both within themselves and with others, and that is something that can have very far-reaching effects! Enjoy this intimate interview.

S: Amy, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I’ve been sharing the idea of empowerment with my community this past year but it’s a bit of a slippery concept and, of course, not one that’s used in everyday conversation, necessarily! Could you give us a working definition as it applies to the work that you do?

A: This is a good place to start the dialogue because more often than not, the concept of empowerment is never really clearly defined in the coaching industry. What’s more, ever since the concept of empowerment became trendy in the business management and human resources field in the 90s, we’re quick to identify it as just another new-age cliché when it is something so much more potent than that.

To me, empowerment is not so much an end goal as it is an on-going process of awakening and activating one’s potential within for use in the betterment of their own life, the lives of others, and even for the well-being of our world as a whole. It’s a multi-dimensional process that happens on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual planes.  True empowerment, in my opinion, goes way beyond just achieving personal fulfillment. It awakens us to the felt experience of our interconnectedness to everything else on this planet, and with that we feel inspired to live in a way where we are supporting the greater good through our thoughts, behaviors, and actions.

In more poetic terms, I view empowerment as a process of aligning yourself with your evolutionary impulse – the part of you that says an unconditional and unequivocal YES to all of life. When you live from this place, you begin to challenge your assumptions about the way you are and the way you can be.  You are aligning yourself with the place in your heart that yearns – yearns to learn, yearns to connect, yearns to embody your soul’s highest purpose. When you orient to life from that place in you, your world takes on a whole different flavor.  Obstacles can become opportunities, and dreams can become realities because you are now operating from a context that is much more sophisticated than just the ego alone. You are connecting to your highest truth and in that realm, feeling vulnerable is not viewed as a liability. Rather, it becomes an indication that you are leaning in to that new edge of growth that is capable of bringing you to an even deeper level of authenticity.

When you are empowered, it does not promise that life will always feel great, or even good, but you will always feel energetically engaged in your process and present to your life, and I believe on a soul level, this can feel deeply fulfilling unto itself.

S: Thank you for that, and yes, I think that last point is so crucial. I know that at the beginning of my work with you, I was tempted to think “I was doing it wrong” if I wasn’t blissed-out all the time! But it’s not that life suddenly becomes perfect once you learn to use the empowerment tools, it’s more like you have solid ground underneath you all the time, so that as life happens, your perspective is more inclusive. Fear or doubt may be present, but there is also a more spacious awareness that is calm and knows the way forward.

And that brings to me another question. As I’m sure this readership is aware, much of my journey in dance has emphasized leading and following, and the paradox of those two energies coming together. I know the idea of paradox is something you are also very interested in. Could you share some insights from your own exploration of this topic?

A: Of course.  Truly understanding a paradox requires us to “get bigger” in our way of perceiving. As Einstein says, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Similarly, to truly embrace a paradox, we must come from a higher level of consciousness so we can hold what are seemingly contradictory truths to be real at the same time. This requires a deeper level of inner work, trust in self, and trust in the process. Holding paradox in our consciousness liberates us from the need to find the “right” answer and succumb to strict either/or thinking which often robs us of our creativity. Paradox also challenges us to question our assumptions and opinions; and embrace the inherent messiness and complexity of life.

In terms of empowerment work, embracing paradox is a catalytic path to owning one’s brilliance. When we learn to be in-flux with the constant negotiation of balance between opposing forces, we are at the true heart of our deepest potential, our deepest brilliance. Holding paradox is the quintessential creative process in the universe. It creates atoms, planets, even whole galaxies.

There are so many paradoxes we can explore when it comes to empowerment work. For example, the need for safety versus the need for risk as we explore our path in life more deeply; or the need to accept one’s self as is while simultaneously staying committed to your continued evolution. And of course, the paradox you’ve explored in your dance work, leading versus following, teaches us so much about the art of relationship and communication when we inquire more about how these two roles can inform each other in an empowered way.

Because of the potency of paradox, I dedicate a whole part of my training program to learning how to skillfully work with this dynamic to develop better contextual intelligence as coaches. When we can learn to “hold both” in a paradox, a new truth can present itself. And I think our world could use a lot more of this kind of thinking to take us beyond some of the stark polarities we’ve created that are keeping us stuck and divided.

S: Indeed, and I so much appreciated how that part of the training I did with you helped me expand the idea of paradox beyond dance. I see it everywhere now and I sometimes even feel it as a great relief to realize that both ends of the spectrum can exist in me without extinguishing one another.

It’s hard to imagine now, but before I met you I imagined life coaching was primarily materialistic, all about me and my great life getting even better. Obviously I have a very different understanding now, and I’m deeply committed to the work as a highly effective method of making real and lasting positive change from the inside out. BUT, even further than that, I’ve always been inspired by how you speak about empowerment beyond our own lives, that it ultimately can support urgent cultural shifts toward social equality and justice. I feel like this is the next step for many of us, especially in the current cultural climate as so much ugliness is being brought to the surface. I feel like many of us are asking ourselves how personal evolution can align more directly with the evolution of the whole.  Would you share your thoughts on how you see your own work and the Brilliance Academy in this context?

A: This is such an important topic – looking at how we can leverage personal evolution for the advancement of collective evolution towards a better world. I think most other coaches would agree with me when I say that the health of the human psyche is inextricably linked to the health of the collective consciousness, and you cannot heal the whole without healing the individuals within it. So, from that standpoint alone, it’s imperative that we all be doing the inner work to empower ourselves if we want to improve our world at large.

But focusing on the unit of the individual alone is not enough to shift the landscape. We also need to look at the institutional systems and societies we create as those structures invariably impact the way our world works. And more often than not, those structures do not create an even playing field for individuals when it comes to pursuing one’s empowerment. For example, because I am a Caucasian woman, I’ve clearly had access and privilege to certain things my whole life that have made it easier for me than for a person of color to pursue personal empowerment and certainly to pursue a career as a coach. This needs to change.

We need to be more sophisticated about how we think of empowerment if we are going to create a more just and socially equitable world. I try to work towards this end with my training by bringing diverse types of people together in a purposeful and intentional program to not only listen and learn from each other and share our experiences, but also to create possibilities for greater accountability and commitment to transforming our current systems and society. When we engage with each other in this way, we develop an opportunity to create a new social fabric, one in which we all take ownership for the well-being of the whole and feel called to take action. In the training, we also focus on learning things like active listening, empathy skills; and recognizing implicit biases so we can learn how we might be contributing to the disparities in our world and how we can shift our behaviors. To ensure for a diverse group of people, I have an inclusivity scholarship program for the Brilliance Coaching Academy, and those who hold marginalized identities (black/POC, disabled, indigenous, low-income, LGBTQIA+, etc.) will be prioritized and are encouraged to apply.

S: This is so awesome. I also wanted to share an observation about the training, in retrospect, that may tie in a little bit to this topic. The program is officially a coaching training, but I personally found that what I learned extended way beyond the skills I gained for one-on-one coaching. It has also radically changed how I teach dance, how I design retreats, and especially how I understand and navigate my own creative and spiritual life. I mean, I became a painter as a result of this training. How did that happen!? Could you share your thoughts on what makes this program in particular so comprehensive and versatile?

A: It makes me so happy that you had such a powerful experience, and I think that’s in large part due to the willingness and commitment of the group members to show up whole-heartedly to do the work and support each other through a deeply personal and transformative process. I intentionally keep my training groups small (never more than 16, and often less than 10 total persons), and I have a robust application process. I need to know that everyone in the room is taking as much ownership in the success of the program as I am. I view us as a collective rather than through the lens of the traditional student and teacher model. Each one of us will have gifts, wisdom, insights, and knowledge to share in the space. Each one of us brings certain lineages, challenges, and possibilities to the group as well. The smaller size of the group encourages every voice to be truly present in the room, and as I mentioned in the previous question, the group is purposefully made up of diverse individuals.

So, this creates a really a unique opportunity and learning environment. Think about it. How often in your life do you get a small, diverse group of open-minded and open-hearted people willing to support you over an extended period of time in accessing your deepest potential? Rarely, if at all! And I think that’s one reason why this training can feel so impactful. It’s truly a co-creation, and together we develop a safe space for vulnerability to come forth, and we can trust that every voice will be heard. When that safety net is present, people are willing to take bigger risks. Perhaps, that’s what happened for you and why you were able to uncover new talents and joys in yourself, like the painting. And look what wonderment that offering of yours has brought to you and to others!

I also make it clear at the very beginning of the training that the work we do together is not just to ignite our own brilliance, or even the brilliance of our little collective. Rather, the work we do is for the well-being of all sentient beings. Having such a clear and strong purpose bonds us together towards a vision that is larger than ourselves. This is important if we endeavor to play in the field of possibility.

So, yes, I have to agree with you that although this is a comprehensive coach certification program with a versatile curriculum, this experience is truly so much more than that. One does not need to want to be a coach to get something of use out of this experience. I like to think of it as a transformational training – a living experiment in creating the kind of world and society I’d like us to live in. I am truly blessed to be doing this work and to get the opportunity to work with such amazing individuals like yourself, Sharna.

S: Amy, THANK YOU so much again for creating this program and for taking the time to share your insights with us!

To get in touch with Amy: www.amylombardo.com
To learn more about Brilliance coaching: