What I Learned from Saying No
We’ve been sold a bill of goods recently about saying “yes.”
Just do it.
Have the experiences.
Say “yes!” to life.
Carpe blah, blah, blah.
This is all fine in theory, but somehow it has gone awry.
There is a big difference between opening yourself up to challenges/getting out of your comfort zone and running balls-out on the Hamster Wheel of Doing—which gets you exhausted but absolutely nowhere.
Last year, between episodes two and three of breast cancer, I went on a bender of saying “yes.” It seemed healthy and life affirming and not spurred by fear, but by a delight in being alive, and saying “Yes, why not?” I’m here, why not do all of the things?
My Thursday looked like this:
- Coffee with a friend at 8:30
- Teach a class at 10:00
- Take a barre class at noon
- Lunch with someone else at 1:30
- Massage client at 3:00
- Meet with a student at 5:00
- Teach at 7:00
- Tango at 9:00
- Go out for drinks at 11:00.
Be a mentor? Sure. Sub your classes? Absolutely. Volunteer? Indeed. See every art event that rolls through town. Commit to every single social opportunity that presents itself. Check.
You want to seize the day, but it’s not healthy to run frantically from moment to moment.
Are you saying “yes” to tasks and obligations or to experience? Are the experiences a “hell yeah!” or merely a “why not?”
Even in my case, I was discovering that although I was taking on positive, fun, and entertaining experiences, it was still too much to digest.
Too much is too much.
Gorging on fabulousness is still gluttony. It will leave you bloated and jonesing for more.
I love the old Buddhist adage, “Don’t just do something, sit there.”
During my treatment I let all of the yessing fall away. I spent the entire summer on my front porch futon, reading books, napping, going for slow walks around the neighborhood, and watching the clouds roll across the sky. Listening to birds, watching the squirrels flash through the trees, cats curled up at my feet. People brought me food. My world got small and insular, yet rich and fascinating beyond measure. I referred to it as my North End Bell Jar. (Not the Sylvia Plath kind.)
I had no interest in going anywhere or even particularly interacting with people. Not because I was depressed or self-conscious or feeling unwell.
I simply needed to say “hell yeah!” to being still.
I was so content. I wasn’t missing or longing for anything at all. My social media time was scaled way back, I had stopped posting my weekly newsletter, and I was not teaching or doing bodywork. Living very simply on a nest egg I was fortunate enough to have. I have never felt better. I think I might be on to something.
Yet, too much stillness can make one bloated and sluggish.
Treatment is over, I am reentering my working world and staying attentive to how I operate. It is not the way I used to. Pausing to take a breath before I make a decision or say yes or no to someone or something. Making my “no” neither apologetic nor contrary.
Allowing my “no” to be just as positive and affirming as my “yes.”