There are a million things Jamila Reddy is skilled at, but one of the most profound is her ability to reflect with intention.

As an empowerment coach, she does this with clients and helps folks tap into their full power and live authentic lives. This shows up fully in the meditation she voices for Shine too—on everything from bravery to finding your purpose to learning your needs.

In this How I Take Care interview: Jamila opens up about how she's taking up space, what she's learned about community care through grief, how she navigates people-pleasing, and so much more.

On becoming an empowerment coach and lifestyle designer:

My origin of coming into this role actually began in the theater.

It was thrilling to me to be able to see a production and know that that came from someone's brain—that all of this came together based on one person's idea and that person wrote it down and then it sort of became alive. My origin of empowerment coaching really started in my practice of making an idea come to life on the stage and understanding that if I could do this in the theater—if I could take something on a page and then make it real—then I can do that I can do that in my life.

Ideally the audience leaves the theater with something, they didn't come into it with. I started to apply this idea of production into my life and ask myself: How do I design my life to create the experience that I'm trying to have, whether it's inspiration or empowerment?

My experience in the theater showed me how possible it is to intentionally design and experience—and I started to apply those concepts to my life.

Then, it became impossible to keep it to myself because it was transforming my life. I wanted to share this. It kind of unfolded organically from there.

On building her own table and being evidence of endless possibilities:

I moved out of theater because, to be honest, it's a very white industry. I felt like I was fighting for my place at the table—and I realized I don't want to fight to be there. I want it to be my own table—or I want to be invited in a way that feels like I'm actually welcome instead of having to squeeze my way in.

I left the theater and I started to expand my writing practice. I realized that I had spent so many years telling other people's stories but I had a lot of stories to tell for myself. I think that giving the power of stories and of truth telling—and letting my experience be mirrored externally—helped me understand possibility.

A friend of mine, Jason P. Smith, told me once: “What you do is provide evidence of possibility.”

That's what it really is all about. Every single thing I do, at its core, is about providing evidence of possibility. I want to be an example. I want to be evidence. I want to be a walking receipt and to show people it actually is possible for you to, for example, be calm in the midst of chaos.

Every single thing I do, at its core, is about providing evidence of possibility. I want to be a walking receipt and to show people it actually is possible for you to, for example, be calm in the midst of chaos.

So many of us have never seen a model for the things that we're doing or the things we're going after. We've never seen evidence that it's possible. I feel really compelled to use my life as the evidence.

On taking up space:

In a lot of the spaces, I was the only one of few black folks or people of color at all. I often felt like there was a kind of hyper visibility for me that compelled me to not want to ruffle any feathers. In the South, they call it being a fly in the buttermilk, or wanting to kind of blend in.

If I couldn't blend in, I was wanting to sort of feel this desire to prove myself worthy of being there.

Taking up space is about being wherever I am and not expending effort or energy on accommodating other people's emotions, desires, needs, wants, interests, or opinions. It's about being in a space and giving myself permission to exist without constricting or performing—to just be as I am.

That has been a journey for me. Taking up space for me has been a lot about speaking my truth.

Taking up space is about being wherever I am and not expending effort or energy on accommodating other people's emotions, desires, needs, wants, interests, or opinions. It's about being in a space and giving myself permission to exist without constricting or performing—to just be as I am.

It shows up mostly in my interpersonal relationships, where there's this kind of subconscious program or narrative that if I bring 100% Jamila into the room, it makes me not as lovable. I had this story that I was making people uncomfortable—so taking up space in my relationships looks like not being afraid and being courageous about telling my truth, speaking up when something bothers me, sharing my thoughts and opinions with people. It’s asking for what I need and not letting my fear of being a burden prevent me from having my needs met.

But it's been challenging. It's been challenging because that conditioning and the programming is so deeply entrenched in us, telling us “don't ruffle” or “keep the peace.” Unraveling that story has been truly ongoing.

On fighting against people-pleasing habits:

A lot of people that I work with or who are in my kind of virtual community are people who are oriented towards healing. They’re the helpers, the lightworkers, the lovers, and these heart-centered compassionate leaders who haven't cultivated their power as a heart-centered leader.

With that power not being finessed, it comes out in the form of “I want to help. I want people to feel good.” That's a very honest impulse that I think is distorted by gender and socialization, including racial socialization, where this very beautiful, compassionate impulse to be of service.

The shadow side of that impulse is denying yourself the love you so freely give to others or by thinking that how you're supposed to serve is by making sure everyone around you is OK. That’s where the people pleasing impulse comes in for so many people.

I had to ask myself: Where does that come from? I realized: That's actually love. It’s a very unskillful way of expressing love, but the root of that comes from a desire for people to feel good.

So many people are burned out and overwhelmed because they're giving, giving, giving, giving—because that's a part of who they think they are. Like at their core, there's this Buhddist nature of wanting the end of suffering. But how do you take that very beautiful life-giving nature and express it without doing yourself harm? That is mostly what I do with most of my clients.

On finding ways to self-soothe:

In 2016, after Philando Castile and Alton Sterling’s deaths back-to-back, I told my partner at the time who had been practicing Buddhism for 10 years that I was done with watching the news and engaging. I didn’t want to know.

Their response was: “I hear that. Have you considered how to stay engaged without it depleting you?” That became the question for myself: How do I stay fully engaged with the world without letting it deplete me? Without letting it destroy my spirit?

Physically, there’s not much I can do if I walk out into the world and a car hits me. But I can protect myself emotionally and spiritually through breath work, meditation, being in my body, having embodied practices, yoga dance, taking myself on walks, or stretching.

Most of the turmoil that I was experiencing was self-generated in my mind. The way out was to actually get out of my head and into my heart. That perfectly describes what the practice has helped me do: Turn down the noise on the mental chatter and on self-sustained internal chaos.

Plant medicine has been a huge game changing resource for me—from teas to food, to essential oils. It’s very Indigenous actually, very African and very Eastern. There's a plant ally for every, every single human emotion. We are physically designed to use the earth and use what it creates for our wellness and optimal function.

A lot of us pride ourselves on being self-sufficient and self-reliant, but there's so many ways to help yourself. It’s similar to yoga, when they instruct you to do a pose with a block. I feel like plants are like that nature's block for your mind.

On accepting community care and its role in self-care:

My journey towards giving myself permission to receive community care was born out of my experience with death and grief.

After my sister passed away suddenly from an overdose in 2018 in August, and my father died six months later from cancer, I had this very extreme trauma that I could not carry alone.

People think of grief as emotional but grief is also physical. I felt like I was carrying a literal boulder—and I needed help. I was having a hard time feeding myself and struggling to take care of myself because the depth of the grief that I was experiencing was debilitating.

I was so used to being the giver and the shiny one, but I felt like all of my energy was going towards being with this trauma.

Through that, I learned the value of community care by actually not having it. I was actually the first of my community to have experienced a loss of that kind, and in a way, it was the first for all of us.

Many people were saying, “Let me know what you need.” But my experience with grief is that it sort of cuts you off and puts you in survival mode. I would think, “What do I need?” All I could come up with was, “I need my sister to be alive. I need my dad to be alive.” I couldn't come up with creative solutions because I was actually in a traumatic experience—and in fight or flight all the time. It was so challenging for me to be clear about the care that I needed.

When some of the smoke from that fire had cleared, I was very intentional. The one thing I know about grief is that it comes and goes. It's never over. It's a visitor, and while the length of its visits will vary, it is coming back—and no one is exempt. Knowing that it's coming back, I prepared myself for its next visit.

One of the things I focused on was knowing what care I needed. I asked myself: What are some of the things that helped me function at my best? How do I invite the people who love me to help me function at my best?

I created a document, a care guide, for my chosen family and friends with details and signs of the ways I know I’m not OK. It was full of things I like to hear, what I don’t like to hear. It helped me get clarity about what to ask for what I needed, and helped me get clarity about knowing to ask them for that.

On managing grief:

My sister died from an overdose. She had struggled with drug addiction for several years and kind of going in and out of sobriety and rehab. When I was grieving her death, I was like in it. I understood what she was feeling and realized that this very feeling that I was experiencing was similar to what she was trying to get out of.

Everyone has this universal desire to be soothed in the midst of chaos. And sometimes we reach for things that are harmless. But how do we learn to reach for things that help us—and not just in the moment with temporary fixes?

There's always infinite roads to get to the destination. Some of those roads are filled with things that hurt us. Some of those roads are peaceful paths.

My brief experience of understanding what she was carrying and understanding what compelled her to reach for things that harmed her made me ask: How do I navigate grief without reaching for something that harms me? So shout out to her, for being master teacher in that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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