Sometimes an anger surges up in me about how abysmally this culture guides and takes care of its members around transitions. We expect engaged women and men to put on a happy face from proposal through honeymoon, ignoring their innate need to grieve the loss of their singlehood and honor their fears about getting married. We applaud pregnant women and new mothers for not allowing their baby to interfere with their regular life. (My heart sinks when I see a mother with a one week old baby at the grocery store.) And just when the body wants to turn inward to slow down or come to a complete stop at the year’s end, the culture orchestrates an overwhelming time filled with the outward energy of consumption and socializing.
The theme in my work with clients last week was exhaustion. Despite all of them knowing that their bodies needed rest, they unilaterally expressed how difficult it was to say no to the stream of busyness that defines these days. “It’s just overwhelming and I’m choosing not to fight it,” one client shared. “I’m noticing it but I don’t feel like I can choose against the current.”
We say yes and yes again. We smile and laugh and spend and dance, and eventually the body collapses on the other side of the new year. It may collapse in the form of illness or depression, but it will find a way to slow you down; it always does. When we miss the cues that help us balance the “yes” with the “no”, our body-mind-wisdom finds a way to re-balance for us.
Yes is a beautiful energy. When you open yourself to yes you’re receiving the stream of love, caring, compassion, giving, and connection. Those of us in the helping professions are naturally oriented toward yes as we give ourselves to seeing and helping and guiding others. We are aligned with yes-flow when we’re giving to others.
But no is beautiful as well. And in order for the stream of yes to come from a balanced and full well inside of you, it must be balanced by its counterpart of no. No sets boundaries. No carries the current of discernment and healthy judgement. No is the sentry that stands at the gate of your heart and lets you know when you’re giving too much. No says, “I can’t attend the holiday party” and “I can’t bake homemade cookies this year; I’ll have to buy them at the store.”
Yes and no are twin poles who meet in the center of a full heart. Yes runs dry without its counterpart of no, and too much no without the warm flow of yes creates a cold and rigid chamber. Yes is the stream of flowers that you receive through an outstretched arm. No is the firm hand that casts a circle around you to protect your time and space.
And yet how difficult it can be to say no in a culture that reveres the yes. We associate yes with the happy face, and the happy face is a god. We associate yes with the extrovert ideal: the person who is always up for the party, the happy hour (there’s the word again), what our culture calls “a good time.” Yes is the person who goes with the flow, who extends herself tirelessly for her kids, who bakes extra cookies for the bake sale, and strives never to disappoint others.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with yes, of course. The problems arise when you say yes but you really mean no, when you sideline that quiet whisper that says, “I would really rather stay home in my pajamas and watch a movie.”
This week, as we descend into January and what can often be a time of depression for many as they come down from the busyness of December, I want to be a whisper of strong permission to listen to your no. Notice where that small or loud voice communicates in your body. Notice what happens inside when you ignore your no. Notice how you feel when you honor the circle of protection and step proudly inside of it.
January, as a liminal month of nothingness, is a time for deep rest. Many creatures in the animal world are in hibernation right now, and that’s where we need to be both psychically and physically. We often keep saying yes as a way to ward off the nothingness of this time, as we don’t know that we can handle the difficult feelings that may arise when we slow down into silence. Loneliness, vulnerability, and sadness may appear at your doorstep; invite them in. In saying no to the outside world, you will be saying yes to your inner world. And that’s where the energy needs to be right now if January is to shift from being a month of dread to a month of quiet excitement as you’ll carve out time to get into bed early, light a candle, take a hot bath, reflect, read poetry, and, mostly, just be.
The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.