Living at the Center of Yes and No

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It’s something you can feel, deep in your heart and in your bones: the longing to say Yes to yourself – yes to your dreams, yes to your desires for creativity and self-expression, yes to your own aliveness and sense of purpose. And yet your life may be filled with countless things and tasks and commitments and obligations that muffle the inner Yes almost to the point of smothering it.

Sound familiar?

It’s time to create space for your inner Yes, so your longings can breathe and grow and flourish. And that means you’ll probably have to say No to something else. (Or several somethings.) In fact, if you’re on a path of living an awake, authentic and inspired life, saying No to demands or requests that you have no genuine willingness to honor is essential. I call it the Open-Hearted No, and learning to say it is an artful process.

The Open-Hearted No is neither a guilty no nor a “Hell, no!” It is clear, honest and kind. The No honors the self, while the Open Heart honors the other and his or her right to make a request or extend an invitation. It sounds something like this: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not able to come (or volunteer, or commit) at this time. “

No lengthy explanations or rationalizations, no defenses, no gushy apologies, no back-pedaling. Just…No. With an open heart and maybe even a smile.

Learning to say a loving No is particularly important for those who have habitually said Yes to any and every request made of them, out of fear of letting others down. In her book, Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing, bestselling author Anita Moorjani experienced a profound awakening to her true self while she lay in a coma, her organs shutting down after a long struggle with cancer. In her awakened state, she became aware that the cause of her cancer was fear, especially the fear of disapproval from others. She shares her initial shock at realizing this:

“Why was I always suppressing my own intelligence and creativity to please others? I betrayed myself every time I said yes when I meant no! Why have I violated myself by always needing to seek approval from others just to be myself? Why haven’t I followed my own beautiful heart and spoken my own truth?” (p. 69)

I have had the pleasure of interviewing Anita, and I can tell you that she is perhaps the kindest, most generous and peaceful person I have ever met. I could feel the power of her loving presence in every word she spoke. She is the embodiment of a beautiful paradox: as she learned to say an Open-Hearted No to things she wasn’t genuinely willing to do, she found herself living a life that showers her with an abundance of things to which she joyfully says Yes! Her life flows with grace , coherence and integrity.

That’s what happens when we honor ourselves.

Yet this is often misunderstood. What trips a lot of people up is thinking, mistakenly, that honoring themselves means switching from putting other people first all the time to putting themselves first all the time, and that seems selfish to them. (Which indeed it could be.) But the Open-Hearted No is not an “all the time” thing. It is not based on strict rules or hierarchies. It is chosen, as is the Open-Hearted Yes, in the present moment.

The Open-Hearted No arises from an understanding that trying to designate who is “more important” makes no sense in a universe wherein we are all inherently and equally worthy. It is simply a choice we can make to ensure that we stay connected with what is important to us at the deepest levels.

I’ve stopped thinking of the choice to say Yes or No as having anything to do with putting others, or myself, first. Instead, I now think in terms of putting myself at the center of my life. When I’m at the center of my life, I am centered. I am grounded, balanced and clear. I can see that life is not a straight, narrow and linear path of either/or choices. It is circular, cyclical, organic and iterative, expanding outward into ever-widening fields of possibility. Today’s No can easily and gracefully become tomorrow’s Yes.

And as I imagine each person at the center of their own lives, rhythmically expanding and contracting with the flow of their own energy, I see how, like a kaleidoscope, our circles can form endless beautiful patterns as they merge and separate.

When we take responsibility for ourselves by getting centered, paying attention to how we feel and listening inward for guidance, we make choices that are self-honoring. We maintain our integrity and interact with others in an authentic way. When we push beyond what we are genuinely willing to do, out of fear of disapproval, we disrupt our own natural rhythm. We abandon our center and insert ourselves into someone else’s orbit. We may appear to be generous on the surface, but true generosity arises from freedom, not from the sticky tethers of fear.

So experiment with saying an Open-Hearted No to things you’re not genuinely willing to do, or don’t have the energy to do. Give yourself space and time to cultivate your dreams and talents and aspirations. Dare to put yourself in the center of your life. It’s not about being first…it’s about being genuine.

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