Other Stuff

Monday, October 24, 2011

Say No to Say Yes

My phone rang at midnight one night.  This is completely inappropriate for so many reasons, the least of which being it’s midnight.  What’s more, the person on the other end was calling to ask me for a favor.  A favor.  At midnight.  Me!  This person did not yet know me very well.  My husband shook his head and said, “Please don’t take on another project.”

Project?  Oh no.  Does he think that I think I can… fix people? Since it was already midnight, I decided to think about it the next day.  That night I dreamed of a horrible time in a horrible place where everyone always asked me to do things for them and I could never say “no.”  They called, they begged, they gave me sad stories and I wept for their suffering, their ineptitude at life.  I ran myself ragged helping people.  At one point in the dream I had a toddler on each hip and an angry mother yelling at me about goat milk.  (Was I babysitting?!)  It was quite terrifying.  When I woke up I realized that horrible time and place was no dream. It was a potential reality.  A reality I would do well to avoid.

I don’t believe anyone can be fixed because I don’t believe any of us are broken.  I agree with my husband in this: I have a history of “helping” people longer or more than I should.    By “should” I mean “able to.”  At a certain point you have to let go and say, “This person is no longer benefitting from my help.  I am wasting my energy.”  Sometimes it takes me a while to see that because I truly and profoundly believe in every person’s ability to adapt, evolve and overcome the inherited human conditions which cause all of our suffering.  That doesn’t mean I go up to strangers at the mall and tell them how miserable I know they are and how I could help.  I don’t seek out people that need more than I have to give or lead others to believe I can repair their broken lives.  I try to live my life as fully as I can in each moment.  I try to listen to what my spirit tells me.  I know if I follow my spirit (that little voice inside, a burning blue flame of existence) I will be happy.  And guess what?  I am happy.  This is what people see in me.  This inner acceptance and peace is what we all want.  I fight for mine.  It doesn’t always come easily, but I know I deserve it and I will have it.

Leading by example is the only real way to lead.  If people want to learn from me, who am I to tell them they’re incapable or not ready for what I have to say?  That’s up to each individual to decide.  I decide when I’m ready to learn from others in the same way.  It happens sometimes that a new person in my existence will be excited by my methods of achieving harmony and peace (even in temporary installments!) and we will both get something out of our relationship.  Other times a person may feel intrigued by my ideas (which I learn from others when I am ready) but not yet be willing or able to accept the changes.  That is okay with me.  Take what you want and leave the rest.  I remember feeling annoyed in the past when someone would ask me for advice then do the exact opposite of what I suggested (because I’m right, after all.)  I wondered why they would bother asking if they weren’t going to take my infallible words as gospel.  It was liberating when I realized it didn’t matter one bit if they listened or not.  My role is not to force their hand or chastise them with I-told-you-so.  My role is to be a kind ear and heart when another human needs it.  My only role as a human is to lend support, uplift and empower as many people as I can every day.  If what I say helps them in the end, great.  If not, at least I tried. 

Many years ago I was drowning in obligation.  My job was demanding, my family needed my help, my friends were high maintenance and took every ounce of energy I had, which I gave away freely because I didn’t know how not to.  It was overwhelming.  At some point I made the decision to stop everything.  “NO” became my very favorite sentence.  I had to step back and evaluate why I couldn’t stop trying to help even when it was obvious my help was not needed or wanted.  (Sometimes people say they want your help.  They don’t know they don’t mean it.)

Before I could learn to say “no” I had to figure out why I had such a hard time saying it.  Was I afraid Person A wouldn’t like me anymore if I didn’t dog sit for them for eight days?  Or was it that my family would suddenly disown me if I didn’t show up at Thanksgiving Dinner?  It sounds ludicrous now.  Maybe I thought it would make me a bad person because I did have the time and the means to help and had no reason to say no.  When I saw I had no reason to say no, I realized that was my problem.

Why do we need a reason?  The best thing we got from the War on Drugs is the phrase, “Just say no.”  (And you thought it was cheaper weed.) Saying no or no, thank you is so much easier than racking your brain for an excuse.  “I don’t want to,” is also a great reason. 

“Are you going to happy hour with us tonight?”

“No, I really don’t want to.”

Beautiful!  No excuses!  Just the truth.  I simply do not want to go to happy hour tonight.  (I cannot imagine ever needing to actually use this example.)  It lets the other person know, in certain terms, what you are thinking.  It’s such a relief to me when people speak plainly.  Life is crazy and mysterious enough without us confusing each other all the time by doing weird things.  Weird things like, going to a happy hour even when you don’t want to go then sitting there resentful the whole time that you’re not home in velour drawstring pants watching the latest “Law and Order” marathon. Or agreeing to work that extra shift when you are tired or just plain don’t want to.  It’s madness.

I had to go through the extreme of saying “no” to everything for a while before I found my balance.  The more I practiced and the harder I listened to my little voice (which is actually quite big) the more I did what was right for me.  And doing what is right for us is always going to benefit everyone else involved.  When we can give fully to ourselves without fearing judgment (our own or other’s) we are able to live with abandon and joy.  We’re no longer afraid of being defined by what we are doing.  We can then focus our divine attention on simply being

A curious thing started to happen when I began to say “no.”  I found myself suddenly saying, “YES” with a lot more enthusiasm.  Every time I said “no” it allowed me more opportunities to say “yes.”  I started to feel light and happy when I said, “yes” instead of regretful or dreadful.  I enjoyed doing things for people again, as long as I truly wanted to and not out of obligation.  If I felt obligated in the slightest, I would check in and see if I truly wanted to do the favor or if I was reverting to old habits.  My whole attitude towards little things (like answering the phone) changed.  I was no longer afraid of answering the phone because if it was someone asking me for a favor, I knew I had the ability to say “no,” which is exactly what I said when my phone rang at midnight one night. 

I am not afraid of you.


Joni K. Martin said...

good blog! I have to remind myself of this too on a regular basis.

Sherrie said...

Thank you for debunking the tyranny of thinking we must accommodate anyone who asks a favor of us! What a waste of spirit to say "yes" when we really mean "no"...all that life energy expended on on resentment.

What helped me move past those resentment-inducing feelings-of-obligation was when I realized I was bringing about my own misery - I am the person in charge of me, I am responsible for my actions and reactions. Whenever I feel resentment I remind myself, "you chose this" and that usually kick starts me back into self-empowerment mode.