When your inner guidance says “no”

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For many years, one of the hardest words for me to utter was “no”. To me, back then, “no” meant:

• cutting off an opportunity forever

• hurting someone’s feelings

• being perceived as rude or selfish

• admitting I couldn’t do it all (which, to my inner perfectionist, was akin to death!)

There were lots of other things “no” signified to me back in those days.

And an interesting thing happens when we are afraid of “no”: we don’t truly allow the inner wisdom that says “I don’t want this.” Or “the timing’s not right.” There is power in “no.”

A familiar struggle I notice with my coaching clients is this: An opportunity comes their way, but it doesn’t quite feel right. It looks good on paper, but something’s off. A part of them (and usually lots of friends and family, too), is telling them they should jump at the chance, but something tells them it’s either not the opportunity for them, or it’s a great opportunity, but not the right time.

This is a truly tricky spot to be in — if we let fear run the show. In fact, I was recently faced with a situation like this. An opportunity appeared and it looked great. But, somehow, it didn’t feel great. It felt exhausting — when I thought about actually doing it, I felt instantly tired and like I wanted to cry (this, I’ve come to learn, is one of my body’s ways of saying no when I try to push it).

Something I notice is that as I get closer and closer to “mastering” certain skills — in this case, the art of saying no! — the stakes in my decisions tend to feel higher and higher. I’ll hear myself saying, why does this feel so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier by now?

But life tends to throw us bigger challenges when we’re ready for a more challenging playing field. It’s like when you choose the “advanced” level in a video game instead of “intermediate”. Intermediate has gotten a little bit boring, but in the advanced level, it turns out the aliens shoot at you the whole time, not just off and on.

Even after many years of practice, I found it really hard to say no to this recent opportunity. But pushing myself through something that feels deeply exhausting is not walking my talk. It’s not what I stand for.

Let me tell you: the “yes” would have felt easier (in the moment). It is almost always easier for me to say yes when I am asked to participate. Saying yes doesn’t bring up my “stuff” the way no does (and I know this is not the case for everyone — some people have more difficulty with a genuine yes!).

In this case, I needed to say “yes” to permission to say no.

And you know what happened? I got so much support from the person I said no to. My genuine “no” — rather than closing off an opportunity — opened the door to the potential of future opportunities with this same person (who really appreciated my honest response).

I also had the experience of walking my talk when it comes to self-care — and being supported in doing so.

Had I said “yes” in order to not ruffle feathers, in order to not disappoint, in order to avoid the potential of beating myself up for “not doing enough”, I would have reinforced the idea that it’s not safe to say no.

And, my friends, we need to create evidence for ourselves that it is safe to do things that are hard.

Just as I once had an overstuffed file of evidence for my belief that saying no would mean I’d end up alone, I am building evidence for the contrary: saying no can be a powerful form of taking care of myself, and inviting others to support me in that self care — and participate in their own.

In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren calls situational depression “ingenious stagnation.” I wonder about this in terms of giving ourselves permission to say no to more of what our souls just don’t want — would we experience less depression if we had more permission to deliver an authentic no?

Do you find saying no difficult? What helps you do it when it feels scary? I’d love to hear from you.

(If you need help getting clear when you’re “on the fence” about a decision, you might find this post helpful.)

And: I’ll be enrolling in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program through the end of this month — I have room to work with two more people one-on-one. Please note that the small group version is currently full — but I will likely offer it again in the near future! Find out more here

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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On discomfort, sadness, and creativity

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I recently reconnected with a teacher of mine, and, as I shared a frustrating experience with him, he reminded me of the importance of being able to tolerate discomfort.

Even thinking about “tolerating discomfort” makes me … uncomfortable. But I was so grateful for his reminder.

I wrote about allowing discomfort quite a while ago, and it’s a theme I revisit periodically. Because I forget: my mind gets busy trying to make things the way I think they should be SO THAT I am not experiencing discomfort.

But: what if the very discomfort I’m experiencing is exactly what I need to experience in order to grow into the place, the self, the life, I desire?

I am not saying that we should tolerate negativity or abuse or situations we can readily change by willingly acting on our desire to change them.

But sometimes there are situations we cannot readily change — they are not so clear-cut, and there may actually be nothing for us to “do” at this very moment. This is an uncomfortable place to be. It is the space of ambiguity, the (sometimes vast) gray area of uncertainty. Most of us will go to great lengths to not be here.

When I am feeling particularly crabby or “off” or I catch myself slamming into a wall again and again trying to make something happen, there’s a good chance that my mind is actively avoiding discomfort by trying to “move the furniture.”

(“Moving the furniture” is my metaphor for those times in life when there is really no clear action to take, but because fear has a hold on me, I try to do something — anything — in order to feel more control. In other words, the room may be perfectly fine and functional, for now, but I am moving the furniture here and there anyway, trying to predict how I’ll want it next month or next year.)

Something I’ve learned in these past few years of working with some very dear clients is that, frequently, when someone says “I’m stuck”, what’s really going on is an unwillingness to tolerate discomfort.

In an emotional sense, the feeling of stuckness is very real, because the unwillingness to allow the discomfort to be there creates a contraction in the body. It’s like rigidly setting your jaw or tensing your abdomen. There’s no flow.

What happens when we give space to discomfort? What happens when we are not frantically searching for the “right option” or course of action so we can get rid of it, but we simply allow it to be there? Just breathe into it, even for ten seconds or so?

I notice that, often, what is underlying my own discomfort is sadness. Just pure sadness.

This does not make me a “sad person”. Sadness, as Karla McLaren says in her book The Language of Emotions, is “the watery emotion.” It is about letting go and moving on.

We may feel a hint of sadness even about small “letting-go’s”, like finishing a book we’ve dearly loved reading, or donating some clothing we no longer want. And let’s face it, there’s not a lot of space for sadness in Western culture.

But these small sadnesses are part and parcel to letting go, moving on, sorting through what needs to be processed and integrated so we can allow movement and flow into our bodies and our lives.

Speaking of flow, I am experimenting with allowing tears more in my daily life. Obviously, not all situations are appropriate or safe for the expression of tears, but sometimes, tears are a totally good thing when I might normally stifle them, and I’m finding the expression allows people to feel closer to me and creates more real connection.

(I don’t mean I’m going around bawling. I’m just allowing the tears to come forth rather than forcing them back. Like, after I saw Hello, My Name is Doris last week, I let myself be all teary and emotional coming out of the theater, because I loved the character of Doris. In the bathroom, I looked over at the woman at the sinks next to me and saw that she, too, was wiping her eyes, and we shared this lovely, appreciative smile.)

***

Creativity is, at its most essential, the life force moving through us. If we are not allowing discomfort, if we are pushing it down and analyzing or strategizing in order to avoid it, there will be a deadness to anything we attempt to create.

You’ve probably felt it when something you’ve created is a little too “sterile” or “perfect”, with not enough feeling, not enough oomph!, not enough flow. Any chance you were trying to avoid discomfort in some way there? I know I’ve done this in my writing many times.

What do you notice about allowing space for discomfort in your life? What happens if you try it for ten seconds? I’d love to hear your experience.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority in your life, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it!)? I’d love to help. Find out more, here.

Above image © Gjs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part one

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A conversation on one of our community calls for The Writer’s Circle (a wonderful group I’ve been involved with for a long time now, which supports me in my writing habit and process) got me thinking about how difficult it can be to truly own and set boundaries around our creative space.

What do I mean by creative space? I mean physical space, yes, but also mental, emotional and spiritual space. Psychological space. And that space means our own energy as well.

From the time I was a little girl, I liked to go off by myself with a big pad of paper and a pencil and write and draw. I also liked to sit by myself — sometimes on our front porch — and talk out loud, making up stories, creating characters and acting out all the roles. Although I often organized neighborhood kids into plays and skits and “pretend movies”, I had a deep need to spend much of my “creating time” in my own company, with no one else around.

This is still true for me. Being solely in my own company (and spending time with animals or in nature) is part and parcel to my writing process, just as my writing process is part and parcel to knowing and understanding myself, and knowing and understanding myself informs what I want to write and what I choose to do with my life.

Geesh, what a cycle! See how it’s all connected?

So, I can’t “just let go of” time alone — daydreamy, musing, reflective time spent in solitude — without letting go of a vital part of the organism that is my functioning life.

And along with that, I can’t “just let go of” my actual writing time, where I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

But, as we discussed on our Writer’s Circle call, how challenging it can be to set boundaries around this sacred creative space on a daily basis!

Recently I had family visiting, and I noticed acutely (again) how I cannot “just shift” from socializing to writing, or socializing to reflecting time. I need to transition from one to the other.

This need for transitions, though, is a blessing. It is the transitioning that allows us to reinforce our boundaries around our creative space and creative energy.

For example, when I sat down to write this blog post, I did not “just sit down and start writing.” I first told my boyfriend, “Okay, I’m going to go work on a blog post now,” and I went into the next room to be away from his energy and more in my own. Then, I took a few deep breaths at my desk. And then I read a couple of blog posts by writers whose voices I love.

This all took only a few minutes, but within this transition space, I respected and protected my creative blog-writing space and energy.

Similarly, when I had family visiting last month, after spending most of the morning with my brother and his girlfriend, I didn’t “just” sit down and work on the presentation I had coming up. I told them I was going to the library for a while, gathered up my things, walked the two blocks to the library (walking is a great way to transition from one energetic space to another) and sat in a corner cubicle in the cool, quiet library environment. I took a few deep breaths, and starting in on writing notes for my presentation.

Taking note of how we will transition from “social space” to “creative space” is a great way to put solid boundaries around our solitary creating time, space, and energy.

Karla McLaren, in her wonderful book “The Art of Empathy,” calls this “thresholding.” She gives the example of actors who move from the state of being backstage, with others bustling around them, to actually being onstage, in the performance space. Anyone who’s performed on a stage of any kind knows there is quite a transition from being backstage to being onstage, and very quickly you go from one type of energy to another. It’s awareness and respect for the threshold that allows this transition.

Try this: Think about how you might create protective, supportive rituals and routines that act as boundaries around your creative energy and space. My walk for my morning coffee always puts me into “reflective, creative mode”, which is like tapping my writer self on the shoulder and whispering, “Hey — we’re going to be putting words on paper in a little bit.”

In Part Two of this post, we’ll talk about how we can own our right to our creative energy and space, especially when it’s challenged by others around us.

What about you? How do you set boundaries around your creative space, time, and energy?

Image is “Fenceline” © Digitalphotonut | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #7

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Here we are at Saturday Gratitude post number seven already. These posts really help me slow down and connect to myself, and I hope they trigger good stuff for you, too. (Please share in the comments if you’d like!)

So, here are three things I’m grateful for this week:

1) The robins have arrived, signaling that it really and truly IS spring.

And they are everywhere. There is something moving to me about the way they are completely absent from the landscape during the winter, but they always return when the weather warms up and claim their territory as if they never left. Seeing them again reminds me of the mama robin who built a nest on our front porch a few years ago. She protected this nest so fiercely that I had to tell the mailman to leave the mail in the back, because the robin would fly at the head of anyone who ventured up on the porch. We left the porch to her until her babies grew up enough to leave the nest. I was tempted to call her mean, but what looked like meanness was actually excellent parenting.

2) Anger. And recognizing I needed to act on it.

Anger and I have not always had a very, shall we say, friendly relationship. My tendency has been to press it down or pretend it’s not there. But actually, anger is a friend — and a good one, if I listen to its message and make a conscious choice about whether or not to act on that message. Karla McLaren calls our healthy anger “the honorable sentry.” She says it helps us protect what needs to be protected, and restore what needs to be restored. Yes. I’m grateful I was able to honor my honorable sentry this week.

3) Four fluffy little dogs moved in across the street.

They move as a chaotic little group, each wearing a different colored harness, pulling their owner all over the sidewalk. It’s a delight to watch and I look forward to seeing it frequently.

What are you grateful for this week? I’d love to hear, and I wish you plenty of moments to be grateful for in the week ahead.

Image is “First Flower” © Tomas Stasiulaitis | Dreamstime Stock Photos