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How to tap into more joy when you need it most

In these last days of summer, our house is full of family, people and things are everywhere. Plates of food with warm stone fruit next to plates of food with fried rice. People yelling each other’s names from across the tiny house. I am grateful and full of connection. 

Mind you, I am also an introvert, and I took a few days out alone, away from all my family before this next batch of sweetness arrived. I needed time to connect first to myself, to say “oh hello there Annie.” I needed time to be outside. My body and being need time near the water in stillness to recalibrate my inner compass. I am grateful for a supportive partner who did the household preparations for a month of family time so that I could have alone time. I am grateful for the moments we can be outside in the woods or near a river.

Now, in this house full of people from 80 to 4 years old, I am feeling joy. I am feeling the joy of good food, of laughter, of stories shared with our son. I am delighting in the feeling of creating a life with this wild family.

And when I was alone with my thoughts, books, and a shoreline, I felt joy. I felt the joy that comes when you notice the sound of water moving at the same time as a bird call. 

It is not all sunshine and ease, we’ve had major changes in life plans in the last month that caused stress. We are navigating the fires and the virus with apprehension and sadness. We are listening to the news from around the world and our own town – people navigating devastation and loss of life, lands, homes, and rights. We are fielding phone calls from friends and family about illnesses. 

This is to say – the connection is essential. Amid all the changes, and our own and other’s fights for a safer and more just world – we need to remember our connections to each other, to ourselves, to the natural world, to our experiences, our breaths, our stories, and the bigger picture.

And the connections lead to joy. And we all need joy. Joy is a reminder of delight and “aliveness” in the middle of the mess and the heartaches.

This week think about using connection as a source of joy.

What do you need to connect to right now to make a little room for joy?
Who do you need to connect to now?

Want to dive deeper into what joy can be and how to access it? Here is a quick video for you to go further into this practice and how to apply it even in a work setting.

Guess what? I asked a few amazing communities I am a part of what they do to build joy. The answers form an inspiring list you can use to build joy & connection into your life anytime – especially when you need it most. 

Get it here!

Want to share this joy-building list and video with a friend so you can inspire each other? Send them this link to share for free!


Looking for genuine connections in your professional life?
Clear Harbor is a community of fellow leaders who practice equity and make room for joy!

Get on the waitlist before the doors open in September.

Rheanna SmithHow to tap into more joy when you need it most
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How to make and maintain healthy connections

Are you finding yourself getting clearer right now on who you want to be in relationships with or what you need from the relationships around you?

As I begin to see friends and clients in person, I am acutely aware of what I missed, what I need, and what I want to offer. 

I know how important my connections are to the people in my life because of the distance we had to have between us. I am grateful for the connections in my life because of the immense support I received from colleagues, clients, friends, and family in the last year.

A few weeks ago, I offered you a check-in to assure your personal and professional connections are healthy and supportive on many fronts.

(In case you missed it here you go…)

Perhaps you have found yourself longing for connections in your life that are joyful, supportive, diverse, and value-aligned.

A reminder it is a lot to ask any one person to be all these things for you all the time! We need to continue to cultivate old and new relationships for our well-being.

Today I am giving you a quick set of reminders for how to make and maintain healthy connections in your professional and personal life. 

We can all use people in our lives who have our back, remind us of joy, support our learning, and ensure that we continue to become better versions of ourselves.

May your July bring you healthy new and old connections!

Has this note made you think of someone who supported you in the last year? Send them a quick text telling them you appreciate them!


Are you a leader committed to a more equitable and just world looking for a space away from your current work team to reflect, build relationships, and problem solve?

The next cohorts of Clear Harbor are opening in September! 
Get on the waitlist now before the doors open.

This year there will be two kinds of cohorts.
Cohorts for leaders with a high-level of decision-making authority and responsibility (job titles like CEO, ED and Director) AND cohorts for leaders who lead from within in their business or organization (any job title).

Wanting more support from a community of leaders committed to inclusion, equity, and anti-racism?

Jump on the waitlist and I will be in touch.

Rheanna SmithHow to make and maintain healthy connections
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4 essential human connections we all need right now

Connections to other humans keep us learning and growing.

Healthy human connections provide us with love and support (even in the workplace).

Our relationships to each other can increase our joy, fun, and happiness.

Social connections have been proven to help us regulate emotions, have higher empathy, reduce anxiety & depression and even improve our immune system.*

We need each other.

And we need more than one or two people in our lives.

We cannot be everything to everyone.

And no one person in our life, can be everything to you, or their family, or their work teams.

We need a diversity of social connections and interactions to be fed and keep going.

(Don’t worry fabulous introverts this doesn’t mean you have to be interacting all the time with a dozen other humans either!)

How can you have relationships around you that support your health, and growth as a human?

I made this quick “audit” for you to think about what your current connections are offering you (and you are offering them) and how to have an even greater level of support and joy from the different relationships in your life. 

Check out the video here:

May you have social connections around you that hold you up and support you in all parts of your life.



Looking for a new place to build supportive professional relationships?

Clear Harbor waitlist is now open!

Are you a leader committed to a more equitable and just world looking for a space away from your current work team to reflect, build relationships, and problem solve?

The next cohorts of Clear Harbor are opening in September! 

Get on the waitlist now to get more information when the doors open.

This year there will be two kinds of cohorts.
Cohorts for leaders with a high-level of decision-making authority and responsibility (job titles like CEO, ED and Director) AND cohorts for leaders who lead from within in their business or organization (any job title).

Wanting more support from a community of leaders committed to inclusion, equity, and anti-racism?

Jump on the waitlist and I will be in touch.

Rheanna Smith4 essential human connections we all need right now
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The first hug in a year

I gave my first hug to a friend I hadn’t hugged in over a year. I felt a mix of tenderness, joy, relief, sadness, and distance. The feelings surprised me. I expected sheer delight – I love this person SO much! Instead, I think the hug was exactly what is meant by the word bittersweet. 

I recognized something else in that hug and subsequent first hugs after. My feelings right now are different than I assumed. They are milder and murkier than I expect. I think this is because for the last year, I was not able to have many nuanced emotions.

My mind has been locked down tight. I was focused on attending to the safety and wellbeing of my family and the community. I watched Covid take people’s lives, wellbeing, and livelihood.  I witnessed the racial reckoning of our country with held breath and continued to find what I must do and undo professionally and personally to be a part of ending racism. I observed friends navigating hardships from a distance and did my best to send love. I supported clients in their huge lifts to carry on their missions.

This last year I felt sad, and angry. At times I felt grateful and glimmers of sweet joy. And that was it.

My focus was tight and that was necessary, but it had its repercussions.  

I did not make room for a larger reflection on what was missing.

My spectrum of thinking, feeling, and experiencing was constrained to attend to the immediacy of survival and to respond to immediate personal and societal concerns.

This is not a new thing for humans. We all close in our emotions, and perspective in our daily lives in moments of pressure, trauma, conflict, violence, and loss. 

As tender and quieter thoughts and emotions emerge, I can feel the shape of the cold, exterior container I built to get through the last year. I do not want to be in that container but I know it will take awhile to set it down.

I want to share with you the slow ways I am dancing with the re-emergence of a fuller spectrum of emotions and thoughts. (I am not a trauma-expert, so I am including other resources below.)

You can better see and support others in your work and life, if you tend to where you are emotionally, mentally, and even physically, in this transition.

Here is what is supporting me:

  • I am paying attention to how I am feeling in the moment.
  • I am moving at the speed I can and trying to understand what others may be feeling or experiencing (i.e. go at your own pace and support others in their own pace.)
  • I am building connections with people who can listen without judgement or shame and whom I can offer the same to.
  • I am reflecting alone with walks, movement, and writing. 
  • I am finding moments of appreciation, thinking “I appreciate this… I appreciate you for…” and then letting the appreciation sink in.

The cliff notes:

  • Notice your feelings.
  • Go at your own pace.
  • Know and understand other peoples’ pace.
  • Connect with others who can listen, and you can listen to.
  • Reflect alone.
  • Appreciate the people, moments, the things you can.

Reflection questions to go deeper alone or together:
– What have I been feeling about…
– What am I feeling now about…
– What do I need? What do you need?
– What am I experiencing right now?
– What do I want to take with me from last year?

May you have moments of real connection with others and with yourself this month.


Here are two guides from the past months to support in this continued time of transition:

5 steps for grounding during instability
How to prepare for reopening


Trauma, grief & tending to emotions – a mix of resources

People on Insta for support & resources:
@nedratawwab – Nedra Tawwab
@Alex_elle – alexandra elle

Websites
Self-compassion – Dr. Kristin Neff’s resources & meditations
Cloud Sangha – facilitated mindfulness groups, including groups for people of color and women
Spell for grief & letting go – adrienne maree brown

Movie
The Wisdom of Trauma movie – Dr. Gabor Mate

Books
The Body is not an apology, Sonya Renee Taylor
The Body keeps the score, Dr. van der Kolk
No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking each other home: Conversations on loving and dying, Ram Dass & Mirabai Bush
The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Nadine Burke Harris

Thank you to my social work colleagues for these resources! 
Have others I should include in my list? – Please send your recommendations.

Rheanna SmithThe first hug in a year
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Why I love meetings and how you can too

Meetings… there were already so many dreaded meetings. And now most of us are still doing meetings online with glitchy internet looking at little screens scrambling for a background that hides the messy dishes. (Just noticing do all my notes include dirty dishes… yes there are a lot of dirty dishes in my life!)

Guess what – I am one of those weird people who likes meetings!
I know, I know… it’s true. I built a whole business around being in meetings (small and even very large). And often it is with people I don’t know well. People who are trying to make a plan for the future of their work together.

And I love it!

Can I tell you why I love it?
(The secret can also help you enjoy a few more meetings.)

I love meetings because I get to learn more about other people and connect to their stories while moving forward critical, purpose-driven work.

These are my favorite things – being with people and moving a plan forward!

Good meetings do these two things almost always…

  1. Connect people – relationships are built, and people come away understanding other people’s stories and perspectives more than before.
  2. Move forward purpose-driven action – decisions are made, ideas are discussed, and people come away with meaningful tasks that move the whole group toward their purpose.

Double-check the meetings you are a part of. 
Do your meetings connect people and move forward action items?


Or do you have meetings that are:

  • just a download of someone’s agenda or priorities.
  • all about those next steps and action without any opportunity to build teamwork & relationship.
  • meandering and unclear.

Think through these two questions when planning the next meeting:

Is there 10-15 minutes for human connection?

Is there space to discuss, make decisions, and clearly set up next steps?

Want more on how to support your teams and move them toward action and connection? Let’s talk!

Rheanna SmithWhy I love meetings and how you can too
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Show up for your team without depleting yourself

You are doing a lot. 

As the world continues to shift around us, our commitments require a lot of energy.
The pandemic and the continued fight for racial justice serves as a reminder of the need for action on so many fronts.

So maybe you find yourself run down and tired at the end of the day. Maybe you find yourself on autopilot. Or perhaps you are cranking up the speed to stay ahead of the next change.

Wherever you find yourself, I know how much people depend on you.

When we are committed to creating positive community change, connection, inclusion and love in our work lives and at home, we are tasked with offering up our time and attention to others.

Your team needs you. Your coworkers need you. Your friends and family need you. People depend on you to show up every day and make space to plan and strategize with them. 

Everyone needs to be seen and supported. 

I know that when I am already at my max for energy and capacity figuring out just how to offer myself up can be a real struggle.

I promise you – you can have the energy you need and stay connected with people on your team (and in your life) at the same time.

Here is a simple checklist that can help you stay connected and be supportive of your team WHILE feeling less stress and more energy.

Before you dive in – take a grounding breath. (Inhale, exhale.) The key is simple, small, consistent check-ins with yourself and others. It just requires you to slow down a tiny bit.

  1. How is your own energy and capacity? What are you doing to boost your own capacity? Once you’ve given yourself a boost – you will experience more energy to do the work of supporting others.  
  2. Where can you carve out specific time out in your day for your own breathing room, and space for the people on your team?
  3. What everyday practices can you build into your workflow and conversations that allow you and others to understand each other better and communicate more readily?
  4. What open-ended and curious questions can you add to your repertoire that force you to slow down and listen deeply? (For example – “Can you tell me more about that?”, “Do you have ideas for what you want to try next?”) 
    (For example – “Can you tell me more about that?”, “Do you have ideas for what you want to try next?”)
  5. What simple actions can you (and others) take that actively demonstrate your support for your team and what structures can you build to allow your team members to support each other?
  6. What consistent gestures can you offer that weave in appreciation, acknowledgment and celebration with your team?

    (P.S. If you don’t work with a team sub out the word “team” for any person or small group of humans you are in a relationship with.)

Want a more detailed guide? I made one just for you here.

You’ll find that teamwork is more effective when people feel actively seen, acknowledged, and supported. As a leader, both you and your team will experience increased creativity, vision, and willingness to take risks once you take the time to tend to your team. You’ll encounter less harmful, unaddressed conflicts because trust, relationships and communication allow issues to surface. 

Over time, well-tended teams become more efficient and build capacity to problem solve, generate new ideas, and take on more responsibility… which eventually frees up your own energy.

When we are tired or pushed to the limit, we can miss the opportunities to nurture our relationships.

Take good care of yourself and find one easy way to check in with your people.

Rheanna SmithShow up for your team without depleting yourself
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How I am preparing before we open back up (it might not be what you expect)

Here, in the Pacific Northwest, flowers are beginning to peek up out of the ground. The days are getting longer. A smattering of them have been without rain. Which means there are less mud puddles. That means a lot less loads of wash for me to run. 🙂

Thankfully, some of my family have managed to get their Covid shots. In most places, infection rates are reducing as opposed to rising. 

I find myself thinking… perhaps I should be feeling more relief. More hope. 

Yet, I find myself sitting with a strange mix of emotions these last weeks. Here are the words that come to mind as I try to name them: exhaustion, wariness, nostalgia, sadness, hope, gratefulness, and grief. As we face the prospect of returning to gather in person, my hope and relief is mixed with powerful reminders of what family, friends and community have had to endure this past year – the loss of time spent together, the loss of jobs and security, the loss of loved ones. 

That’s when I begin to notice my posture of “just put your head down, Annie, get through it, push on.” This is not the first time in my life I’ve used this survival technique. It works. For a short time. But it takes a toll when I do it for long enough. 

You see, in order for me to “push through” I must also actively avoid feeling my own emotions – both negative and positive. That includes empathy, grief, tenderness, and gratefulness. This year provided me with moment-to-moment opportunities to both experience and avoid my feelings. Because of the intense magnifying glass our lives have been under this last year – I am noticing the moments I’ve avoided my feelings in order to simply “push through”.

The key for me moving towards hope and accessing my ability to open myself back up to people and public space, is to move myself from a posture of avoidance into a position of allowing myself to experience my own feelings. I am doing this now… ever so gently.

Here is how I am opening myself up to the feeling of hope and the learnings of the last year:

I am focusing especially on my feelings of grief and gratitude.

I am noticing in a specific way. It’s a technique coming out of mindfulness and Buddhism. 

I try to be aware of any feelings I may be experiencing in the moment. Then, I see if I can slow down and acknowledge the feeling, whatever it may be. It goes something like this:

“Hello there, sadness.” 
and 
“Whew, here it comes again… I’m missing someone…” 
and 
“Wow, I am so grateful for…”

I say to myself or (if appropriate) to those around me, just what it is that I am feeling.  I offer appreciations out loud when I am experiencing gratitude. 

I try to offer some variation of Valerie Kaur’s offering around grief if I am grieving with or because of something someone else is experiencing, “You are grieving, but you are not grieving alone. I am here with you.”

I let the feeling remain with me. Till the next one comes.

Then, I am practicing being quiet and present in the moment. (You know me – this is taking a lot of practice!)

This is not new information. It is centuries old and across traditions. However, there is a reason we continue to strive to learn it – it is hard work & it is life changing.

Here is what happens when I allow myself to notice & experience my emotions, especially grief and gratitude:

  • I experience more love and connection in my life, and less resentment.
  • I give love and acknowledgement to those I am with, allowing them the opportunity to feel loved and appreciated.
  • I can stay in the present moment, which reduces worry, anxiety, and fear of the future,
  • I feel human and notice the humanity in others.
  • When I notice gratitude – it expands and unearths more appreciation. Gratitude and appreciation can coexist with pain and grief.
  • I move through the emotions so that unexpected emotions are less likely to surface later, which reduces the harm I enact on myself and others.

It can be hard. 

I am still head down, barrel through at times. And that is okay.

However, the more I drop into my emotions and the lessons they point to, the more prepared I am to keep showing up as a human being.

As I practice feeling more, I process more of the incredible lessons and hard moments of the last few years. As I sit with the grief and the gratitude, I find myself learning how to be a better friend, partner, and teammate. I recognize that I have more capacity than I imagined. 

And that gives me hope.

What are you feeling right now?
What emotions are you paying attention to? 
What are they teaching you?

May we allow each other the space to feel as we enter a new time of transition.

Feelings and emotions too overwhelming right now? Here is a place to go for support: NAMI Hotline

Want more resources to support feeling your emotions, supporting others in their grief, and practicing gratitude? 

Here are a few offers:

See no stranger, Valarie Kaur, The People’s Inauguration  and other learnings
A guide to transition from winter to spring, Kirin Bhatti
Lama Rod Owens – Acknowledging emotions meditation
Tara Brach – Pause for Presence
Untamed, Glennon Doyle
Emotional Agility, Susan David

Need examples? Here is what this looks like in real-time:

Grief

  • I am feeling grief for the lost time with people I love.
  • It hits me in a pang in my chest.
  • I sit with it and I say to myself, “Whew there is that feeling of missing and loss.”
  • I send a message or call when I can to tell the person I miss that I love them.

Gratitude

  • There is always more to do in our house, with our child, in my work. It is easy to get bogged down.
  • I am practicing noticing when my family is actively working on supporting someone else in the house or helping with a household task (which is actually very often).
  • I try and see it in the moment or shortly after and let them know I am grateful for what they are doing and/or I am grateful for them.

Grief

  • I am feeling grief for the people I care about who have lost loved ones to Covid.
  • I am feeling grief when I hear stories of people who have lost loved ones, including their children because of hatred and violence.
  • I offer my love and feeling of grief in the form of a mediation. 
  • When I can I drop into the moment with the person or the story and practice listening not solving.
  • I look for actions I can take afterward, in response to the grief – learning more about the story, taking a direct action, and supporting a person or organization.
  • For individuals in my life I am grieving with, I look for simple ways I can show up in support (and ask them first).

Gratitude

  • I notice when my heart is welling up with tenderness. It can be when I watch Lino and Rob dance in the living room or play cars. It can be when Lino is creating a hilarious made-up scenario or when Rob or his sister Lisa is preparing a warm meal.
  • When I feel the tenderness rise up, I notice it if I can.
  • I set down what I was doing just for the moment and take a mental polaroid.
  • I say to myself “THIS” and I say to myself or out loud, “I see you, I appreciate you”


What are the ways you acknowledge grief and loss?
What are the ways you offer appreciation?


I’ve created a guide to help you move forward during this time. Grab the guide here.

Rheanna SmithHow I am preparing before we open back up (it might not be what you expect)
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4 doable steps to move toward a big (or small) transition in your work and life

Why, you may ask, am I offering up thoughts on making a big transition in a pandemic and during economic instability?

Many clients and friends are thinking about making large (and small) life transitions.

Multiple times a week I talk with someone about changing a career or finding a new way to do things.

The pandemic, the fight for justice for black and brown people, the economic uncertainty is causing many people to get clear on how they want to show up in the world and where they want to put their efforts.

And some of us are in the thick of the biggest challenges of our lives. There is little time to think of the next hour. If you are there, this first video could still offer a place to carve a little breathing room for what happens in a few years.

Check out these 4 doable steps to move toward a big (or small) transition in your work and life.

I’ve created this guide with all 4 steps as a resource for you.

Getting ready for a transition and not wanting to do it alone?

In a leadership position striving for positive community change and in support of justice for black and brown people?

I am starting 2 new Clear Harbor cohorts this February. One is specifically focused on leaders who are contemplating a career transition. 

Let’s chat – more info here and jump on my calendar to talk more.

Rheanna Smith4 doable steps to move toward a big (or small) transition in your work and life
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Simple ways to connect with each other, even virtually

Connections to each other are critical right now. All of us are experiencing a pandemic, along with many accompanying worries and struggles. 

We need each other.

And we can’t see each other… in person or up close. (And some of us are seeing a few people a LOT, up real close… all the time!)

I’ll be real, I fit less into a day than I used to. I am moving slow and I engage less. 

It makes sense that this is where I am at in this stage of a pandemic.

Yet it is a tricky place – less capacity and more need for humans and connection.

If you are like me, you need some new ways or simple reminders of how we can still connect with each other.

Here are a few from me + more ideas from awesome women in a business group I am a part of. (And looking for ways to be alone… I’ve got ideas for that too!)

Ways to connect with family & friends you live with:

  • Play cards, a Board game, do a craft or a puzzle… non-screen activities without high stakes
  • Set aside coffee dates or date nights and turn off the screens & any household tasks or to-do lists
  • Slow down a bit when you are doing things for those you live with – while cooking or making a pot of coffee, think about who you are doing it for, and the care you are offering them
  • Build a short, doable family ritual in the morning – a song you always listen to at the beginning of the day or a brief walk you take together

Connect with friends & family you aren’t seeing in person:

  • Set up longer video calls over dinner or over a morning with a cup of coffee in hand (Zoom, WhatsApp, Houseparty)
  • Send real snail mail – perhaps pictures you have doodled during a zoom call, look at these blank postcards my son & I are decorating. Have a few cards already stamped and ready to send
  • Send short voice texts with text messages or WhatsApp (quicker than texting and fun to receive)
  • Start a picture sending project via text with a friend or group (think of it as the original Instagram, right now I send a real picture of the chaos of our messy house to two friends every few days)
  • Create new groups in text to stay in touch with & give them fabulous labels
  • Play games long distance with friends & family (Jack Box, Psych! etc.)

Connect with your team & co-workers:

You may be with your co-workers or team all the time on Zoom, and some of you are in person in stressful high stakes situations with your co-workers. However, neither of these scenarios guarantee real connection. Take a minute when you can to connect in small ways outside of the immediate work and it will make the work less stressful.

  • Have a co-working day with folks on Zoom, hang out and get work done
  • Add a few enjoyable activities to video meetings like share & tell or playing “highlights” or check-in question (only takes a few minutes and slows down the nonstop work meeting vibe)
  • Set up opportunities for folks to discuss and work in small groups and pairs while on video calls (we can forget that smaller groups even virtually create deeper connection) 
  • Offer office hours on zoom for folks to drop in & ask any questions they have
  • Offer coffee hour on zoom for folks to drop in and connect or other optional group gatherings like games or a poetry writing session
  • Drop off small care packages at your team’s door
  • Check out these helpful reminder phrases to build connection on Zoom work calls
  • In-person (and virtual) – find one small appreciation and offer it to folks on your team, make it a practice to seek out one appreciation per day for a different co-worker

Connect with yourself!

It is quite possible you need time alone and a reminder that it is totally a-okay to burrow in when needed. It is OKAY!

  • Take a walk in the middle of a workday
  • Plug into your earbuds to do the dishes or household tasks and give the fam a heads up that you are checking out for a minute
  • Set aside 4 minutes a day to breathe in and out, use a timer and hide as needed (bathrooms & closets work great)
  • Slow down and make simple things you do already more of a ritual – the coffee making, the egg frying, the teeth brushing
  • Turn off the screens for a few minutes a day

It is OKAY to be less in touch & need to be alone. If you can, let the folks around you or in your community know what you need – you could offer a simple – “I know I have been out of touch, I care about you & just doing my best right now to keep my head above water.” Or to your in-house humans, “I love you and I need to grab some alone time to recharge.”

Feeling alone in your work or community? 

Reach out, send a text, and let someone know you need to talk.

May you find moments of connection with the people in your life and may you find moments of rest and quiet.

What else simple ways are you building connection with others?

Rheanna SmithSimple ways to connect with each other, even virtually
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The return from silence

I am back.

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I have been “back” at work since Elino (our little one) was about 4 months old. He is now almost 2 years old! But there’s a tension between our real life and our online life. In my online life, I’ve been quiet & internal, posting a picture every few months. A little picture of a baby hand reaching out to touch a tree on Instagram. A quick photo as a token of the changing seasons on Facebook. A close up of a very green salad made by a dear friend.

In my real life, over the last year and a half, I have been a full-time momma, a full-time business owner/consultant, and a full-time partner in life and work with Roberto.

I’ve been quiet for a few reasons.

One, I had a child. For a quite a while I walked through the world in a deep state of awe. That kind of sublime feeling is not easy to put to words.

But also… Donald Trump became our President.

Both powerful events are intertwined in my psyche. I brought a little being into the world who was so small and helpless. Here is a man who models the worst of what our country has to offer. He is a directly and indirectly responsible for crying babies being taken from parents, normalizing climate lies, violence & sexual assault, threatening the sanctity of free speech. He embraces criminals, dictators and corruption. He pits our country against itself. He is a manifestation of everything this country believes itself not to be but actually is.

The intersection of these two events caused me to pull in and regroup. I was experiencing beloved human nature born into the world and I was hearing people in our country call out for policies and practices that denied humanity. Now, if you feel differently, please email me. I would love to begin a thoughtful dialogue about it. Let me extend an offer of listening as best as I can.

So, that’s why I‘ve sometimes seemed quiet.

I wondered “What do I have to say in this time”? It’s question many of us ask, especially those of us living in positions of privilege. And yet for us to come together in this time of division, we need to be talking. Talking and listening. Listening a lot.

Yet soon after these events I had an amazing opportunity to work with The Food Empowerment Education Sustainability Team, FEEST on their new strategic plan to grow & deepen the movement for just food systems. We had lively meetings while Lino slept (and cried) in my lap. I facilitated meetings with Roberto – my husband, a FEEST founder and a phenomenal facilitator. I listened. The lines of my life blurred – personal and work and political could no longer stay in separate columns.

(To be inspired and amazed by what youth-led, creative, love centered, food-filled social change looks like CHECK OUT FEEST.)

I worked with Verity Credit Union as they explored the true meaning of community in their mission while vowing to be a financial institution that puts people and community first. This work changed my understanding of what institutions can be when they live through the right intentions. Their work serves as an example that a large system can imagine another way to be.

I facilitated with multiple organizations that are working to become more equitable in their work and missions & unpacking the ways they perpetuate institutional racism. I continued to support groups of people that gather together to figure out how to make changes in large structures, like our foster care system.

Maybe you have witnessed people working to make fundamental changes in how we are in community with each other during this time of divisions and hate?

Maybe you have also quieted your heart and begun to look more directly at who we are as human beings…

When I look closely at humanity right now I see the ugly, the inhumane ways we pull back to protect “our own”. I understand and feel more clearly this instinct to protect & enclose around those I love. I also see the ways we come into this world as small creatures with sweet coos and loud cries for help. I see how we rapidly find delight in this world. And how easily we come across frustration and loss. Passing my days with a toddler I am reminded of how I choose to see the world and how I choose to interact. Every day I see how we have so much to learn.

We can keep a small understanding of humanity and decide who is deserving of love and who is not.We can also expand our understanding of each other as essentially connected and recognize our mutual origins as helpless small humans. Each of us is capable of responding to the call of our time to be greater than “us” and “them” & to bridge the distance between you and me.

Here are questions you can ask yourself as you continue your journey toward creating a better world:

What are the ways you are remaining connected to the beauty and humanity of someone different than you – perhaps someone who votes different than you? Who believes something different than you?

What are you doing, even something small, to heal a wound that has been left in your community?

How are you listening to the cries around you? Want do people want? What do people need? What are people afraid of?

Leave your answers in the comments below so we can hear each other.
Or feel free to send me an email annie@vesselconsulting.org.

admin@annievonessenwebsite2015The return from silence
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