When Yes Means No

image: brunklaus.nl

When I say yes but mean no, I feel a sinking sensation in my gut, the same sensation I feel when I cross another line: that of imposing my will onto another person, of telling someone something they don’t want to hear – that they might not be ready to hear – and who knows anyway whether my karmic shortcuts will work for another in the long run.

When I say yes, it comes from the heart, with all the noble intentions born of largesse of spirit. It does not come from a sense of obligation, from neediness or fear that I will be disliked. Maybe it did in younger years, but not anymore. And now I must admit that a disparity is created when I offer with my heart but often unknowingly with empty hands. This longstanding inability to recognize boundaries  creates suffering.

Youth allowed me to override my body constantly, but once I glimpsed forty and beyond, it progressively became more difficult for my head to galvanize my body into action. If I now fail to listen to my body, there are more dire consequences.

My body’s kinesthetic knowledge is real in a way that trees and flowers are real – sand and clouds and sky. I am part of this planet here and now and am restored daily through wakefulness, through my thoughts and actions. And though my mind may contemplate the universe and my place in it, the body calls me into the present moment. When I say yes but mean no, my body knows the error long before it registers in my head. Flesh and bones know limitations, and I have only just begun to listen deeply, to grasp and hold onto their innate wisdom. This has taken me over half a century, but I might as well begin, for each day granted me now seems a gift:

My head is spinning, I want to take a long, purging bike ride. I can visualize my thoughts slowing down, my anger abating – a nice distraction from feeling the places that scare me, in Pema Chodron’s wise words. Staying in the present moment is an opportunity – and there are times I am simply not up to the challenge. My body is tired – perhaps a counterbalance to all I’ve been pushing around in my head. My knees ache, sending me a signal. I try ignoring them. My energy cannot easily be summoned – I feel dull and out of touch with my usual sense of vibrancy. My mind rebels against these limits of the flesh, but the deeper part of me knows there is wisdom in returning to my senses. If I go anyway, as tired as I am – if I go as I have done countless times before, I will doubtless return stiff and sore, wishing I had listened better.

Over a lifetime of forcing, I have depleted my energy stores until I have what my Chinese doctor calls yang deficiency. I complain of hot flashes. He explains them this way:

The human body is a microcosm of the body of mother earth. We know about climate change – this is happening because we keep taking resources from deep inside her, like oil, and burning them up on the outside. Eventually this results in global warming, in extremes of hot and cold. (He leaves me to draw my own conclusions: I use energy reserves I don’t have, burning them up anyway. I have  hot flashes, followed by chills. Hmm ….)

I can’t keep giving what I do not have. I think many women are prone to this – we are caregivers, nurturers, attentive friends, lovers, artists of the soul.

I’ve said yes when I meant no mostly because I really wantedto help, longed for connection, wished to be received by others and loved as much as I love, in turn. To risk an adage, I have been trying to draw water from a dry well. And when I have done this, suffering ensues. Then in some cases, I have unknowingly passed this suffering on to others. Then follows an uncomfortable cycle of self recrimination where I haven’t liked myself for what I’ve done. Nobody wins.


12 thoughts on “When Yes Means No

    1. I agree! And one of the “Likes” comes from plantainperiodicals – I went to her blog where she wrote in a post, “It felt good to be reminded that there are people out there as passionate, driven yet confused and fragile as I am.”

      Synchronicity or what?
      Gratitude as always for you visiting, C.


  1. At one time, I said yes to everyone and everything that I felt needed my money or my time. Finally, my wife learned how to put a restraining hand on me and kindly tell me, “No, hon, that’s not for you. Let someone else have the blessing of helping.” It was great advice! (Also, she never allows me to carry cash or to stick around and ask questions about a project that needs volunteers.)


    1. Yes, you sound a lot like my dear husband, whose only regret is not being able to help more people for free (he’s a builder, so you can well imagine how long that queue would be). And I agree with your wife in that it IS a blessing for others to learn if necessary to help. Let that lesson be shared in order to enrich all of humanity.

      Thanks for visiting and for your comments, as always.


  2. Bela, I love you! Your words of wisdom ring so true to me….and my life expierences! Your words also confirm me , to myself…..and I have needed that for oh so long now. Thank you so much, Wendy


    1. Wendy, thanks so much for the compliment. I am happy when my words fall on ears that tingle with recognition – when my stories can open the way for others to experience a greater sense of ease and/or self affirmation.

      Thanks for visiting, and taking the time to comment.


  3. “I use energy reserves I don’t have, burning them up anyway. I have hot flashes, followed by chills.” This dribbled like an insistent drum roll in my head when I read this wise piece yesterday. The drum roll’s got muted today, but it is there, still insistent.

    How many times do I say Yes when I mean No? Countless times, I am afraid. But I am learning, I am getting there. With some luck, I am going to make these words of yours my very personal cairn to guide me out of senseless depletion of my energies. So, thank you, Bela.


    1. Yes Priya, I think it’s more common than we think. Becoming aware of it, I find, is the first step. S…l…o…w…l…y the changes come about in setting those boundaries, and it really does seem everybody is happier when we take care of ourselves that way. Or at least that’s how I see it. Love to you!


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