Saying no is an interesting sort of movement. It is a change of direction, a change of attention, or a change of mind. Saying no is interrupting the familiar flow, leaving a comfort zone, risking a disconnection. Sometimes we think of no as a negative, or a problem. As if every different opinion is evidence of a conflict. We have a problem with no. We like yes better.
Saying yes continues us in the direction we are going. It endorses the current reality and promotes the familiar. The yeses are consolidating and the noes are catalysing. We need them both.
Often we have to say no to people who want more from us than we are willing to give. No to directions in our lives that are not helpful or healthy. No to our children when they are wanting things that are bad for them. No to our work when it tries to take over our lives. We have to be ready to say no to the outside world when it makes demands or intrusions that are unhealthy for us.
As our development expands, we become aware of the many voices we have inside of ourselves as well. The wishes, fears, motivations, and interpretations that are generated nonstop. The understanding of ourselves in the world that we have come to by a combination of learning and discovery. We become aware that there is an inner chorus of different voices and understandings. We see that we can be at times kind and at times thoughtless. At times clever and at times vague. At times perceptive and at times disconnected.
Some of what our minds generates matches what we really believe and what is really good for us and some of it doesn’t. We arrive at a place where we recognize inner experience that we know is distorted or creating unnecessary pain for us and we can say no to believing in that reality.
An example will help. Suppose I have been friends with someone for many years. She is overall a good friend, although she has her off moments. (Of course I am ignoring the fact that I have my off moments, too.) We agree to meet for lunch. She forgets. My mind, in the face of that loss, begins to make a lot of noise: “She is so selfish. She probably got a better offer. She is always dropping the ball…” And so on. This is my mind trying to deal with the loss. But it has some counterproductive directions. There is a me in me who knows that. This other self–perhaps we can call it the grown-up–begins to generate other thoughts: “She is generally reliable. She is well intentioned. Anyone can make a mistake. Actually, I, myself, have been known to make mistakes…” And so on. This is the earned, chosen part of my mind saying no to the automatic, habitual part of my mind. It is me saying no to me: An inner no.
When we feel solid and we have worked toward maturity, we develop the capacity to generate an inner no. We choose what parts of our inner interpretation of reality we are going to listen to and believe–and live by. And we have compassion and acceptance for the other internal views and other voices that get generated based on our experiences and our fears. It is a wonderful feat of caring for ourselves, and it frees us to enjoy our time on this planet.