By Dorian Martin
In 2015, I found myself regularly channeling my inner toddler. “No” became my common response to a variety of queries after several years full of stressful life events. Surprisingly, I found this approach was counterintuitively the best way to get back to “Yes” – and a feeling that life’s possibilities were beginning to bloom again at middle age.
Awash in the Tsunami of Life
Let me set the stage for you. In 2014, I declared that my yearly intention was going to be one of “Completion and Conclusion.” I was determined to finish my dissertation that year since I was reaching the final deadline before getting kicked out of the program. In addition, my elderly father was living with me and I was trying to help him shed the overwhelming number of possessions sitting idly in the storage facility that he was having trouble releasing. The tip of the iceberg of Dad’s possessions was my deceased mother’s stash of 80-plus large tubs of fabric. In late 2013 thanks to the help of a number of friends, we managed to sell most of it.
I really thought I had a handle on what 2014 would look like and could juggle those priorities until two things happened in late spring – (1) my increasingly frail father ended up in the hospital for 47 days following emergency surgery; and (2) my doctoral chair left the country and I couldn’t reach her for almost four months. I ended up finishing much of my 200-plus-page dissertation over a three-week period with little sleep while worrying that my father – who was in a rehabilitation facility at this point — was going to end up back in the hospital with more life-threatening issues.
Fortunately, Dad remained healthy for that period and I successfully defended my dissertation on the last day possible. Needless to say, each of these stressors would have been a challenge to handle separately; however, the combination was an overwhelming tsunami of stress.
Learning to Finally Say “No”
I entered 2015 depleted mentally, emotionally and physically so I decided that my intention for the year would be “health” in all its permutations. To do that, I realized that I needed to strip down my life to the bare minimum – basically to do a life renovation.
To achieve that, I started really contemplating what I wanted my life to look like going forward. I also started taking my schedule down to the studs by saying “No, thank you” more often. When a question was asked or an opportunity presented itself, I would take time before I answered so I could listen to my heart, instead of my overactive mind. I’d wait patiently to see whether the offer truly sparked joy for me and if I really wanted to make that commitment, as opposed to going because it was expected of me. Fairly often, I found myself politely answering “No, thank you” in response to questions such as “Dorian, do you want to serve on the coordinating committee for this event?” or “Do you want to go kayaking?” or “Do you want to go to this play that you’ve seen three times before?”
A Different Road to Saying “Yes, Please!”
Yet slowly but surely, I started hearing my own internal voice chime in periodically with “yes, please!” That little voice led me in unexpected ways to new opportunities that proved nourishing to my health and spirit. I decided to try a class in Sheng Zhen Gong, a moving meditation practice based on unconditional love. I agreed to go on a trip with a friend to Santa Fe, NM, which is where the concept for this website was born. I also committed to a 21-day clean eating program that led me to adopt a much more satisfying and healthier diet.
I believe the word “No” gets a bad rap sometimes. I’ve learned that listening to your heart and then turning down opportunities that don’t truly mesh with your vision for your life can actually be life-affirming. And trust me – saying “no” to one opportunity doesn’t close down your options because another door will eventually open somewhere else. That door may lead you to something that helps you regain your zest for life and flourish.