The awakened woman, p.1

The Awakened Woman, page 1


The Awakened Woman

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The Awakened Woman

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  Foreword by Oprah Winfrey



  1. Find Your Great Hunger: The Call to Awaken

  2. The Women the World Forgot: Reclaiming Your Voice

  3. Midwife to Your Sacred Dreams: Sowing Fertile Seeds

  4. Be Your Own Storyteller: Creating New Pathways

  5. Validate Your Body’s Knowing: Harnessing Your Sensuality

  6. Let Your Spirit Take Root: Believing in Your Dreams

  7. Be Courageous, Not Silent: Inspiring Action and Opportunity

  8. The Sacred Sisterhood: Cultivating Your Sahwira

  Conclusion: It Is Achievable!

  Your Sacred Dreams Journey: Ten Essentials

  Creating Dream Circles of Sacred Sahwira Sisterhood

  Recommended Resources


  About the Author



  Dedicated to you the dreamer, the beacon, and the generous light that enables others to shine. You awaken the world, giving us hope, and a compass reference that indeed, it is achievable.

  “But still, like air, I’ll rise.”



  I invited Tererai Trent to appear on the final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show as my “favorite guest of all time.” That was quite a proclamation, considering that from the fall of 1986 until the winter of 2011 I had interviewed more than 37,000 guests. I’ve listened to the wide range of stories of the human diaspora, despair, self-destruction, dysfunction, loss, victory, achievements, and triumphs.

  I’d first heard Tererai’s story two years before she appeared on my show for the first time. Her hunger to overcome ingrained obstacles and daring to create a vision for a better life resonated deeply with me. Her life’s journey embodied the essence of every lesson I’d shared in my own work for twenty-five years: Hope—believing in something greater for yourself. Understanding your thoughts create your reality. Gratitude—appreciating what you have no matter what it is. Knowing it doesn’t matter where you come from. Keep reaching for your dreams. And above all . . . you have the power to change the course of your life with education. Her story—from being a barely educated child bride and mother in remote Zimbabwe to achieving her dream of an education in America by being awarded her PhD—is one of such resilience and courage, I knew she would inspire anyone open to hearing her.

  When she walked out onto my set, there was an immediate and deep spiritual connection at work. We locked eyes and stood still for just one or two breaths. In that short moment of time I could feel something powerful. Woman to woman. I see you. I know you. I know who you are and I know what it takes to do what you have done.

  It was a holy moment, a profound experience of looking at someone and with every fiber of my being feeling the fullness of who they really are, and instantly knowing they feel my fullness, too. You see and are seen. Completely.

  One of the most inspirational people I’ve met in all my years of interviewing, Tererai has a personal story that will bring you to tears—and make you cheer. Her perseverance, commitment, and hopefulness are a salve to even the weariest of spirits.

  Yet Tererai, in all her wisdom, knows it has never been just about her. There has always been a “we” behind her success, and the way she knows and honors this deep down in her soul is Tererai’s true gift.

  What I felt that day on my set with her was a way of being in the world, a practice of awakened sisterhood that I have also experienced with my girls in South Africa at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG). Following the tradition of their ancestors, I hear the echoes of their greetings as they pass each other on their way to class: “Sawubona”—“I see you”—and in response, “Ngikhona”—“I am here.” It’s something we can cultivate. I see you, I am here. It’s a power we can create and nurture.

  This is the book I have been waiting for from Tererai because it embodies that feeling she and I exchanged that day on my show. With memoir, myth, ritual, and poetry Tererai inspires us in The Awakened Woman to tap into our deepest longings and to grow from them a sacred dream, a dream that satisfies what she calls our “Great Hunger”—our desire for meaning, purpose, and community. I see you, I am here. Woman to woman.

  Part memoir, part inspirational blueprint for how to make a better world, part love letter to our mothers, daughters, and ourselves, The Awakened Woman reminds us of the power of belief and how it inspires us to create and transform our world and those around us. Her words pierce the deepest parts of us, the place where all our longing and loneliness reside. She invites us to stop anaesthetizing those parts with material things, and instead to listen to our longings and allow them to wake us up to our true potential.

  All the beautiful writers, storytellers, entrepreneurs, grandmothers, and mothers who speak in this book—from Maya Angelou to Toni Cade Bambara to Audre Lorde to Tererai and her mother—are the home that’s waiting for us, inviting us to step into their arms and their wisdom. They call out for us to take our place among them as dream seekers.

  If you’ve ever had a dream, a longing, a desire, but thought to yourself, “No way, I could never. I don’t have the time/money/resources/skills/courage . . .” this book is for you. If you’ve ever looked at the world and felt an aching for one of its many hurts or injustices, this book is for you. If you know the power of sisterhood or need to know its power, this book is for you.

  —Oprah Winfrey


  A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination, prepared to be herself and only herself.


  I grew up in a cattle-herding family in rural Zimbabwe, a member of the Northern Shona or Korekore people. My village, Zvipani, is in the Hurungwe District, which was named after a famous sacred mountain known as Urungwe.

  During harvest seasons, before our community was devastated by the Second Chimurenga War that shaped Zimbabwe’s struggle for liberation, the people of the Zambezi Valley performed their rainmaking ceremonies in the shadows of this great mountain—a potentially active volcano—its size a source of pride and dignity for all the people in the fifteen thousand or so households that make up the Hurungwe District. When earthquakes hit the region, and the mighty Urungwe rumbles, the people of the valley drop to their knees in prayer in awe of its power.

  The Shona have inhabited Zimbabwe since at least the eleventh century, when the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, a city center for trading where many artifacts of art, politics, and culture have been found, are dated. Shona people are divided into five major clans, each with its own mutupo, or totems defining lineage and family. I was born into the Moyo—the Heart—mutupo, among the Korekore in the northern region, which has traditions steeped in such ancient art as fabric painting, sculpture, and music practices—beautifully giving voice to the human condition in ways that transcend geography and time.

  The Korekore people are indigenous farmers with a rich spiritual culture. We believe that our world and all that exists begins with the Supreme Being and Creator, an invisible spirit presiding over heaven and earth whom
we refer to as Mwari, Musikavanhu, or Nyadenga, which in translation generally means: “He Who Is”; “God, the Great One”; “the One who created people” or “the Great Spirit.” Individuals cannot access God, and so our elders seek advice and guidance from God through vadzimu, ancestral spirits. These invisible guardians, our ancestors, are the cornerstone of our spiritual life as well as a source of comfort and protection, especially during illness. It is these ancestors to whom we pray for protection when the Urungwe rumbles.

  Like most native Zimbabweans, the Korekore way of life is organized around our belief in collective duty for the survival of all. There is an unspoken rule that obligates individuals to a moral responsibility to work for a common goal. All things being equal, the community and the ancestors protect individuals and their rights.

  As children, we learn early that we belong not only to our families but also to our neighbors. As such, neighbors have the same rights and responsibilities as family members to instill good manners in village children. It is believed that an individual’s behavior, good or bad, affects the wholeness of the society. As children, while having so much adult supervision has grave consequences when we misbehave, it also gives a sense of security and belonging. Very often, neighbors bring food or cook for children when their mother is away.

  Despite the beauty of our collectiveness, other powers within the environment threatened our way of life. The British colonized Zimbabwe in 1888, and communities like ours were forcibly resettled from our ancestral homes to this incommodious territory when the harsh terrain was determined to be unsuitable for European colonists. Demarcated by the European settlers as a “native” reserve in 1913, Hurungwe became one of the largest and poorest African Reserves in Zimbabwe. Today it is known as the Mosquito and Tsetse Fly Belt. Our village has struggled with disease, poverty, and a lack of basic resources—clean water, electricity, health care, education, and at times, food—for decades.

  I have seen how volatile things happen when poverty, war, and an oppressive colonial system interlock with existing norms of a traditionally patriarchal society. Women and girls, although powerful keepers of our wisdom and collective memory in Korekore culture, were devalued by a clan system that gave men power over disputes and decision-making and marriage practices like polygamy and wife inheritance. Onto this reality, the oppressive colonial system layered the denial of our dignity and sources of subsistence, shaping and extending inequality among the community. We were sitting on a powder keg.

  When the war for liberation broke out during my youth, my people, who were already strained by these patriarchal and colonial forces, grew divided. Families were forced to divulge family secrets, communities were torn apart when they disagreed on which side to support, or based on whose children had joined either the freedom fighters or the Rhodesian army. Women and girls became casualties of a war that started before some of their mothers were born. While all women and girls were in danger of sexual violence as soldiers passed through their homesteads, unmarried young women and girls were the most vulnerable. Rather than have their daughters sexually abused, fathers and clan leaders forced very young women into marriages as a kind of protection.

  It was within this milieu that I, hardly fourteen years of age, had my first child. By eighteen years of age, I had birthed four.

  You see, I come from a long line of women who were forced into a life they never defined for themselves. I had lived my whole life in a poor rural village and had seen how poverty and a lack of education deeply entrenched women in a life of servitude and took away their self-esteem. My own mother and the women before her could only endure their husbands’ infidelity, because men are held to a different standard than women. Promiscuity among men is regarded as part of the norm.

  Despite my own early and abusive marriage, the determination and brilliance of the women around me, who moved through life with stoicism despite the hardships they faced, planted a seed that stirred a deep hunger in me for a different life. Yet it was not that easy to change my life.

  A chance opportunity came when I encountered a visiting American woman who assured me that anything was possible. She reawakened my dream for an education, and for the education of all girls and women in my village. At my mother’s urging, I wrote down my dreams, planted them deep in the earth, and prayed they would grow.

  They did. With steadfast determination, hard work, and belief in my dreams, I eventually earned not only a PhD, but also a prominent global platform from which I could address world leaders and international audiences, where I could lead the charge in the fight for quality education and women’s rights.

  In 2012, I founded Tererai Trent International (TTI), an organization working to improve and provide universal access to quality education in rural communities in Zimbabwe. With Oprah Winfrey’s generous donation and a partnership with Save the Children, my foundation has impacted nearly six thousand children who are receiving quality education and getting an early start on learning.

  We have trained many teachers and built classrooms, and today girls are sitting in classes not only in greater numbers, but also with confidence in a better future. In almost fifty years, no child from Matau School in my community went on to attend university after completing primary and secondary school until my organization was on board. Now the Matau community can boast of several students in different colleges, including one at the University of Zimbabwe, one of the best academic schools in the country, and another at a university in Algeria where he is pursuing a career in medicine. But I am getting ahead of myself.

  Long before I landed on Oprah Winfrey’s stage as her “favorite guest of all time,” before the founding of my nonprofit organization, and before I was a two-time keynote speaker at the UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit, I was simply a woman from humble beginnings who had a sacred dream that was only waiting for me to awaken in order to realize it.

  Around the world, women are awakening as in no time in recent history. In January 2017, surrounded by 750,000 people, I marched in the streets of Los Angeles as part of the Women’s March. Globally, three million women, men, and children marched that day.

  “Do you hear that?” my friend asked as we made our way to the rally. It sounds like a plane, I thought, unable to place the sound. “It’s people,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “It’s people!” I reached for her hand, chills of emotion running through me. Soon we could see for ourselves where the hum originated: pulsing throngs of women in a sea of pink hats and brightly colored signs, smiling and chanting together as one. Across the United States, and on every continent that day, women came together with the battle cry of justice and love on our lips.

  Afterward the question I heard most was “What now?” We saw what we could do together and now we longed for a blueprint for what to do next, a handbook for manifesting our vision of a better world in big and small ways. This book is that blueprint; from traumatic beginnings, I manifested my vision for a healed world. I offer the storytelling and practices in the pages that follow from my heart to yours in the hopes that they will nurture your awakening as a sacred sister ready to make waves.

  Sacred Dreams Manifesto

  My sisters, we women are a massive, untapped, global resource for healing the world, and we are now rising up all over the world—in the streets, in the home, in the political arenas formerly run solely by men, in academia, in corporations, in the media, and in service to the world. And yet so many of us have, for one reason or another, set aside our deepest wisdoms, our most precious skills, and our most sacred dreams. The events of my early life silenced me, and I know many of you have suffered silences, too. I also know, like me, you can and will awaken and live your sacred dreams—a cosmic purpose lying dormant within that waits for you to arise and speak its name. This book is your guide to do this, to uncover and reignite that which is most sacred to you—the dream in your heart and the connection to your global sisters.

  Women have a unique capacity to inspire, create, and
transform. My mission is to ignite your sacred dreams by providing accessible, intimate, and evocative guidance that encourages you to reexamine your dreams and uncover the power hidden within you—power that can re-create our world for the better. I will tap into the dreams in your heart, give you permission to claim your greatest purpose, and provide you with the tools to forge a brighter path—for all.

  This is the movement of the awakened woman, the circle of sacred sisters.

  In these pages, I will tend the fire of resilience glowing within you. I will be your companion as you reclaim your potent voice, filling in the past silences. With poetry and storytelling, I will give you the courage to nurture your deepest hungers and discover your sacred dream, to plant and tend the seeds of who you were meant to be, and to align your life in harmony with the greater good.

  Poised between the ancient and the modern, a rural village in Zimbabwe and major cities in the United States, I offer you a global perspective on the root causes of women’s social devaluing, and our connection across geographic borders. This book is for those women who harbor forgotten or untapped dreams, unheard and overlooked, from the global south to the global north. It is meant to help us remember that we are our own and the world’s richest resource.

  We need to be remembered—and we need to remember ourselves—if we are to release this life- and world-changing power. Far too often society does not understand who we are as women. It misreads us. We must come together to proclaim that we are a global matriarchal collective of healers and dreamers. The spirit of this collective can heal nations.

  I know that you have a desire in you: a desire to be seen, to be heard, and even to hear yourself more clearly. A desire to dream. I hear those longings. This book will rekindle—or set ablaze—the flame within you. Not only will you see and hear yourself more clearly, but you will also see and hear others that have a burning desire to remove what silences them.

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