You Can Choose Nothing

Because sometimes choosing nothing is choosing you!

bella reese

Last month, I rested. For two weeks. It was long overdue before the pandemic. My need for consecutive days of nothingness became more critical to my being once we were smack in the middle of it. To some, I’m sure it looks as though I do it all so well. Please know there’s a cost for everything, and life is not always Ben & Jerry’s Dairy Free Cookie Dough ice cream for me either. Sure, I may make things happen, but that doesn’t mean that I’m built to keep pushing all the time. We live in a society where rest is not valued, celebrated, or equitable. At times, I’ve drank the productivity juice too. However, I’m here to tell you that being means resting. No one should feel ashamed about taking time to do nothing. And no one should have to work so hard and never be able to live because the sole focus is always survival. Rest is not laziness or disregard for your future. It’s a necessary and practical act of self-love that every human deserves. Anyone who knows me will likely tell you that one of my favorite words is “no.” It’s my radical way of taking care of myself and those around me, because I’m fully aware that we’re programmed to never slow down to experience our experiences. For two weeks, I said “no” to everything that didn’t give me room to breathe, sleep, chill, observe, and feel lighter. I said “yes” to what did. My “yes” looked like:

napping on the couch

meeting my move goal (hello, Apple Watch friends)

cleaning the fabric softener dispenser in the washer

walking the trail and listening to my podcasts

putting up a new picture that sat on my floor for weeks

repotting two plant babies

making a favorite childhood snack

sleeping in (i.e., no alarm clock)

watching the sunset at a local winery

bathing with rose petal bath salts

writing thank you notes

checking out a nearby farmer’s market for the first time

writing new content for my business endeavors

making my first charcuterie board that looked too good to eat (yes, we still ate it)

not repeating my boundaries to those who knew them but chose not to hear me

roaming the bookstore and leaving with a jigsaw puzzle

celebrating my bestie’s birthday in her new home

trying veggie burgers

daytripping to ‘The Gem of the Chesapeake’ for crabs w/ Mom

making breakfast in the morning

not checking a single work email

closing my eyes to hear the quietest places of me

Though our individual cups of rest may not look the same, they all must be filled. Rest, my friends. Rest. You won’t miss what’s meant for you.

Water Wins

Someone once said, “Stop lighting yourself on fire to keep people warm.” It stayed with me. And I started pouring water everywhere.

For this trip around the sun, things will be much cooler. I understand that won’t work for everyone. The freeing lesson…it doesn’t have to.

This is the year for my softened desires to beam. I won’t waste this shower of renewal.

Chapter 35.

 

 

Love Letter to 2020

2020. It hasn’t been anything short of tumultuous, maddening, daunting, and on 10 whole thousand! And as much as the thought has crossed my mind that we can throw the entire year away after this first half of welcomed and unwelcome pandemonium, I refuse to accept that this is it. I know better than that. And you do too! The first thing we can alter when nothing seems to be on our side is our mindset. To assist with making that shift, I offer this digital space to illuminate a litany of love that has shown up in the cracks of uncertainty, ugliness, and upset. Won’t you stay with me for a minute? You’re already here. 🙂

Dear 2020,

You’ve given us:

Breath. We, those of us reading this, still have it. It’s a symbol of humanness that has been taken from too many of our Black and Brown loved ones and communities. We should feel it, be present with it, and use it to hasten action for those who should still be here.

Children. They keep making us stronger, wiser, and content with the idea that sometimes in the hurriedness of life, less is more. As they grow, hopefully we do too — in openness, empathy, and unity.

Family. It comes in many forms, but the point is that we’ve likely found refuge in the steadiness. For some of us, it’s angelic steadiness because we’ve lost loved ones. Still…we see, feel, and remember the consistency from what’s familial.

Friends. Some have gone to great lengths to make us smile with Zoom parties, snail mail, and daily calls. We should thank them. Keep showing up for them.

Laughter. From conversation or our preferred format for broadcast media. We’ve spent a few moments stepping away from it all and reinvigorating our courage.

Goals. Ones we’ve achieved and others we’ve set. Whether big or small, we’ve made progress and had something to celebrate. In my circle, I’ve seen businesses launched, donations raised, houses bought and sold, job transitions, spiritual wellness, courses started, stories written, boundaries enforced, and much more. Why throw in the towel now?

Partnership. In activism, romance, and business. Because we’re still awakening to the truth that we’re better together. What a marvelous ideal. Perhaps too slowly, but we’re getting in sync.

Hope. Through miraculous recovery, accountability for the toxicity, and even the fragrant florals we’re paying more attention to when we walk. We’re learning to carry it around like we do our phones.

Creativity. As a writer, mine has come as words in cards, emails, letters, blogs, and manuscripts. Others leave space for theirs in watercolor, photographs, thread, speech, cuisine, or events. Regardless of the expression, imagination has not failed us.

Peace. For some, it never seemed to be within reach. Now, we find that the interruption of storms by way of justice, pausing, closure, and need for rapid adaptation has washed away the inauthentic parts of life that weren’t helping us to grow more in love with who we are, what we represent, and how we show up in the world.

So, 2020. You’re not cancelled, and we haven’t lost. We’re here for the promise producing power.

With gratitude and reverence,

Bella Reese & fellow caretakers of presence

Physically Fit…Exercise Not Included.

It never fails. I’m headed into the office, and I have this moment of energetic glee as I begin thinking of what I’ll accomplish for the day. It’s typically a combination of work and personal projects, because I like a good balance. Most recently, I’ve found myself on the bus when this happens while taking in the lyrics of my R&B, gospel, or ratchet tunes (because we all know it can vary). I get incredibly excited about the goodness that will come from the productive use of brainpower on the horizon. I’m trying to discern whether this sudden elation is the result of the perfectly ground coffee beans in my purple travel mug or if I really love doing work. I may or may not be easily convinced that it’s the coffee since it does make me happy. But, for the purposes of you reading this, we’ll go with the work!

As I was pondering about this odd yet joyful experience, it occurred to me that by the time I get to my office, that impromptu spark of enthusiasm to do work has a tendency to fade. Somewhere between the bus depot and the always lit Chinatown, that cheerful feeling about the day’s forthcoming success is commandeered by some unknown force that doesn’t want me to be great. As the analytical overthinker that I am, I took my morning mental acrobatics a step further to try to figure out why.

My office isn’t a place that I dislike. The people that I work with to support our mission and constituents are the reason I get out of bed and embark on the sometimes adventurous commute. I consider myself blessed to be a part of the fabric of a mission-oriented organization. I do what I do in medicine and public health because I believe in the power of potential and the necessary exposure to the possibilities for young people everywhere. But, then it hit me…the incredibly basic aha moment about my struggle to maintain merry momentum. It’s about as basic as Rice Crispies with no sugar. It’s summed up in two words…physical environment!

I’ve always been aware of my preferred working style and motivational requirements, but I’ve become more cognizant about the effects of the space around me and what I need to maintain my coffee-infused happiness without the extra cups. Here’s what I’ve recognized and how I’ve made small changes to reclaim and extend my workday thrill:

  • No matter how many bells and whistles are put in an office building, it’s still a building. This means most things look identical and 95% of the walls around you are white.
    • So, what did I do? I became a plant mom! Seeing green things around me makes me feel alive. I also feel like a superb human because I’m able to keep temperamental species thriving in a stoic environment. I have several plants, but there’s a particular one on my desk that sleeps at night and looks like it’s waving at me every morning since the leaves expand. It’s the wildest sight, but it always amazes me! Have a look!Happy morning!
  • One of the best office perks is human interaction. Some might disagree with that, and I totally understand as I’m 97% introvert and love quiet. But, the other 3% must be devoted to the relationship management that’s necessary for my recurring paycheck. Yes, money matters! Occasionally, we all want someone to talk to, and being around colleagues is a good remedy. However, somewhere along the way someone decided that an open office environment was a grand idea, and it has now taken over industries and partially ruined lives (or maybe just mine…shrug).
    • So, what did I do? I invested in noise cancelling headphones. Here’s a trick…you don’t even have to turn them on to block out chatting, coughing, chewing, and anything else that keeps you from focusing. Bose, take all my money or else I might not make it! Of course there’s also alternative work schedules, telecommuting, mobile workstations, etc. to assist with this environmental challenge, but dare I say that sometimes I do want to be around other humans. I just do better when I have the option to control my desire for interacting.
  • I’m generally an organized person, which is evident in my desk organization. Clutter makes you crazy and thwarts effective decision-making. There’s nothing more distracting than an abundance of papers, doodads, spills, and useless folders from prior meetings and engagements.
    • So, what did I do to further my need for order? I acquired a label maker and disinfecting wipes. My colleagues think I’m ridiculous. What they won’t tell you is that my neat habits are slowly rubbing off and they’ve stopped collecting items they don’t need, hoarding papers as if they’ll ever look back at them, and going the entire season without at least trying to attack the germs that frequently lurk in offices and even more in an open office environment. No clean shame here!
  • I’ve always had a “one box” office rule. It means that I arrive at a new workplace with one box, and I depart with one box when it’s time to move on. The contents of this box are meaningful photos, postcard art, decorative office supplies, and a few awards. I know we’re moving toward mobile friendly environments, but I produce better work products when I have the smiling faces of my god kids and grandparents looking back at me throughout the day.
    • So, what did I do? I displayed mementos in prominent places on my desk. These often represent the many facets of our lives. Being surrounded by the people, places, and things that remind you of good times keep you motivated. Most importantly, it’s a constant reminder to save your leave for quarterly vacations. I love a good two for one!

I have noticed a little more pep in my step since being intentional about improving the physical space I inhabit for the bulk of my day. I can’t promise that this is a one size fit all solution to your office woes. But, if you can do anything to adjust the space where you devote your time, energy, and presence each day, you might find that your sparkle expands into a blissful burst of impact in your work, life, and community that doesn’t ride to the next bus or train stop without you. You make space for your happy when you’re performing in a space that fits your happy!

 

Here, There, and Somewhere

I may not have blogged too much in 2018, but I definitely took plenty of trips!  I scrolled through my old photos this week and was quickly reminded that I didn’t sit still.  I remember having a conversation with someone about my desire to travel internationally in 2019 (already done, so stay tuned!) since I didn’t at all last year.  While I do enjoy globetrotting to other continents, my domestic trips are never without some level of allure.  And judging by the hundreds of photos in my digital collection of landmarks, food, scenery, and people I love, last year’s travels are worth chronicling.  Notable highlights included:

  • Getting a henna tattoo and enjoying a live belly dancing show during a Moroccan dinner at Epcot;
  • Snuggly CNN time with my cute godbaby genius, because cartoons don’t keep his attention;
  • Beignets, étouffée, and po’ boys…enough said!  My bayou adventures are never without all of my Creole faves;
  • A random outing on the Chesapeake Bay for crab cracking and boat watching with my momma;
  • Dining underneath the sunset by the beautiful seashore in Puerto Rico and later being mesmerized by the colorful murals throughout the capital city;
  • Blueberry birthday pie at my home away from home, because cake wasn’t on the menu and peaches were the appetizer;
  • Getting the scoop on all of the best Mexican eateries in San Antonio from my Uber driver’s well air-conditioned car…because Texas…in the summer;
  • Attending the Sisters of Flora art exhibit with stunning floral paintings by a New Orleans native;
  • Trying not to break an ankle on the graveled roads and ogling at the calves on the drive to my friend’s farm country wedding in Indiana;
  • Galavanting around Austin looking for the best spas and BBQ with the one who makes me laugh hysterically and supports my need for delectable foodie finds.

If I gain nothing else by traveling, it’s the pure essence of being comfortable with leaving behind what I know to experience the richness of what I don’t.  That’s life.  That’s wealth.  That’s my happiness.

We’re All Jacked Up!

I believe that much of the dysfunction that pervades our lives is a result of lies that have been perpetuated by society for untold amounts of time.  As an overly introspective person, I tend to keep most of my thoughts and perspectives to myself.  And besides, everything doesn’t deserve a place on the Internet. *shrug* However, several observations over the last few months have ignited a small fire in my soul thus moving me to speak on something I deem as pure shenanigans!  I’m almost mad at myself for accepting this as truth.

How many times have you heard someone say that you shouldn’t look to someone else to validate you? It’s a commonly shared piece of advice in personal and professional discussions.  I do agree with at least three tenets of that argument – 1) your happiness is your choice 2) sometimes you must encourage yourself and 3) you must recognize your worth before expecting someone else to.  But, there are also some gaps in this perspective that I think have been lost in translation and hampered our ability to build and contribute to effective, meaningful relationships.  Here’s why –

In some (not all) cases, we typically desire validation from the people we care about.  Does that mean that we’re obligated to agree on everything or that it’s okay to base decisions on what others think?  No.  But, in a relationship that’s built on authenticity, we can show up authentically and should have the expectation (yes, we should!) that we’re being heard.  BREAKING NEWS: people don’t always seek validation because they’re lacking self-worth.  They’re likely pursuing the intimacy that comes with understanding and presence.  Translation: I’m human, and I want to be accepted. That’s a post for another day though.

Secondly, we might need to reevaluate someone’s place in our life if we don’t have any evidence to show that this person is supportive.  What kind of ideals are we propagating for future generations if we’re teaching them that it’s okay to not desire subtle or even sometimes bold affirmation by other humans?  I think this can come in different forms, but it’s important that we leave ourselves room to tell people through words and actions that we value their existence, that they did a good job, that their small steps toward a big goal are monumental, and that it’s okay to express our feelings and sit with them for a while with the people we trust.  By doing this, we are communicating that we are available and we value the opportunity for this exchange.  Translation: I am present for you, and it’s okay to be vulnerable.

The point is that we all need each other.  And I believe it is our responsibility to validate each other if we want to be the best versions of ourselves.  I’m tired of us pretending like we don’t have emotions and rationalizing that we’re less than great if we seek to be understood or want to be recognized.  I get that there are levels to this, and I’m only hitting the surface.  Hell, I can even admit that I don’t appropriately validate others the majority of the time.  I see posting this as a step in the right direction to undo how I’ve chosen to interact in my own relationships.

We’re killing ourselves by ignoring our emotions and legitimate desire to be connected.  Instead of operating in a place of aversion and silence by choosing not to expect validation by others, I propose that we all demand it.  Perhaps then we wouldn’t continue living as though it’s every woman or man for her/himself out here in this lukewarm world.  We may come in and go out of this life alone, but we don’t make it through without someone else acknowledging that they see us.

Monday’s Mantra: Do More Little Things

IMG_5965Two years ago, I became an independent jewelry designer for a company that’s built on doing more of what you love with the people you love.  As a charms based company, there’s an extensive selection of charms that represent family, hobbies, seasons, sports, and much more.  But, my favorite charms in the collection are the engravables, because they can be customized with dates, initials, names, and quotes.  These are particularly appealing to me, because they’ve given me the opportunity to wear my values on my wrist.  Each time I look down I can be reminded of what I believe and stand for.

My most prized engravable is my hematite geo bar that reads, “little things.”  If you’ve been following my posts over the years, you probably know that I base my life on the little things.  For me, the small gestures of kindness toward myself, my presence for the celebratory and even non-celebratory moments for loved ones and friends, and the thoughtful gifts that I curate or purchase is what brings me the most happiness.  I try to be intentional about the way I care for myself and those in my life by not being consumed with flashiness.  Instead I purposely choose to invest my time, energy, and being into what makes my soul smile.  Some days that might mean that I stand outside and listen to the whistle of the wind, go to the library to see if my knowledge of Dewey Decimal System is up to par (yes, I know what that is!), or randomly mail a card to someone letting them know I’m proud of what they’re doing.  I do this because I’ve recognized that it’s the small things that we often take for granted that bring delight to our days and a boost to who we are as human beings.  When we remove our focus from the little things it’s easier to become overwhelmed, overworked, and overly consumed by materialistic or shallow things and feelings.  That instantly robs us of the ability to appreciate our blessings and privileges.

If I could give one piece of life advice, I’d say do more of the little things.  That could come in the form of saying “no” when you know you’re not really committed, finally booking the plane ticket for the vacation you’ve never taken because you don’t want to get behind, not feeling guilty for leaving work on time so you can grab dinner with friends, devoting a portion of your day to pursuing your passions, calling the family member you haven’t heard from in a while, or eating the slice of cheesecake because you want to celebrate an accomplishment.  The truth is that all of those little things will be the peace that you’ve likely searched for in other places.  Everything we do doesn’t have to be big, bold, and witnessed by the masses.  But, everything we do should be a collective representation of every little thing that makes us stress less and cherish more of what we love while we’re here.