Saying No With Love

As Compassionate Beings, we are consistently trying to expand our ability to share resources, time and energy. As Tribal Beings, we belong to many families and groups where the connection is strong and our desire to participate is highly activated. We know that saying Yes is part of the path of Friendship and also an act of Service. We want to be part of the community, we want to contribute, we want to stay connected.

However, there are times when saying No is important. We’ve all known someone who became a martyr and sacrificed their well-being for the sake of others. Maybe it was our parent or maybe it was us. Often, those who have the strongest sense of duty or obligation will say Yes to requests until they collapse from fatigue or illness.

On the Macro-Level:
A very important spiritual teaching for a Humanitarian, is to understand that their worth is not based on how much they can help in this lifetime. Whether we work in social activism, aid, healing arts or charity, our inherent worth is not related to the work that we accomplish. Even if we are consistent contributors to our communities, friends and families, our value is not in what we give.

Our worth is indisputable and utterly valuable regardless of what we do or who we are. Doing “good things” is simply about expressing our true nature, rather than about validating our presence on Earth.

On the Micro-Level:
As a student of the universe’s “workshop” about Time & Energy, I’ve been working at balancing these two things over the last two decades. In fact, I’ve used an appointment book since I was 11 years old so the organizational aspect of my personality has long been there.

I’d heard that Gandhi often had even 5 minute increments planned out in his agenda, in order to maximize his workload and efficiency. Whether this is true or not, I know that I do not want to micro-manage my life, I just want to honor my commitments and have free time too.

My current intention is to find fun ways to serve more people while still respecting my own time and energy. However, though I enjoy being of service, there are times when I must say No to requests for my time, energy or money. Usually it is because I’m already fully committed for that moment in life or the request doesn’t resonate with me.

Every time I say No to someone, I practice the art of saying No with Love, not Guilt. It can be challenging at times, but I know ultimately, my truth is a better gift than even my help.

Two Types of No:  No to Yucky + No to Yummy
In 2001, I committed to saying No to things I do not resonate with for any reason: be it a job, person, opportunity or request. If it’s not aligned to my heart, I must say No.

However, a new challenge started to occur in 2005 when life flowed a consistent stream of yummy wonderful things to me! These were things that my heart and soul were in agreement with so I said Yes to most of it: amazing friends, gigs, parties and events.

Three years later, I realized that I was feeling exhausted from too much Yummy! As a result, I decided to slow things down and started to say No to even the most delicious offerings. (a tougher type of No)

It was akin to discovering the world’s best buffet and learning to pace yourself amidst the incredible dishes. When I stopped drooling and started trusting that this buffet would still be there tomorrow even though I said No today, it became easier and easier to say No to Yummy.

Now when I receive an invitation to play or to help, I ask my body “do I have the desire and the life force” to do it?

Sometimes, strong desire can inspire your life force to rise to the occasion but sometimes, even when you really want to do something, your body says No. The opportunity, the event or the person may be wonderful, but you might still need to say No. Another way to see it is that you are saying No to one thing, but really saying Yes to another. This way, you realize that you are always receiving something even when you are saying No.

The Fear of Missing Out: FOMO
I remember the first time I heard the term FOMO (fear of missing out). It was in reference to a common experience that people have at the Burning Man Festival.

Since this massive art festival averages 50,000 people and features thousands of fabulous events, artworks and venues, some people get stressed that they cannot see it all. FOMO anxiety tends to make people inattentive to the moment because they are wondering if they should be elsewhere.

They cannot commit fully to what is happening in the now because they are ready to run to the next party or person. They want to say Yes to everything, but end up saying No to what is right in front of them.

We’ve probably experienced this in ourselves at times or with people we’re speaking to. I remember seeing it at film industry parties when I first started working in Vancouver. The person would speak to you restlessly, with one eye scanning the room for a better option. They were looking for someone who could further their film careers and feared that they were missing out on opportunities while they were talking to you.

The best way to deal with any type of FOMO, is to realize the Perfection of Where You Are and who you are with. Even though you are saying No to all those other people and opportunities, you are saying Yes to where you are now.

Whether it is the Event you find yourself at for the evening, the Job you are working in for the year or the Relationship you are involved with at the time, saying Yes fully to the experience will transform the journey. It doesn’t mean Yes forever, but it just means you are actually present and appreciating the Now.

When I took a 3-month journey to South-East Asia in 2008, I had to say No to many wonderful things: events happening in my community, performance gigs and time with friends and family. I also had to stop my teaching and counseling, which meant saying No to my meaningful work and to my income for those months.

Instead, I said Yes to a real retreat and lengthy period of rejuvenation. I said Yes to new experiences and new friends. I said Yes to quiet days of leisure and crafting. Even though I had turned away many opportunities at the time, unplugging for 3 months was deeply healing and gratifying.

Sometimes people fear missing opportunities in their career so they say Yes all the time. They never want to “unplug” in case they cannot plug back in on their return. They believe they should say yes to Work above all else and say no to Relaxation and Play until they retire.

Others fear missing opportunities in matters of Love so they say yes as often as they can. With hindsight, they realize that they had said yes out of Fear: fear of Loneliness or fear of Rejection.

No with Love
In the industrial and information era, the power of Yes has been greatly recognized and celebrated. It has been an effective philosophy to activate all types of innovation, intention and consumption.

Yes is also the mantra in the realm of personal development as we strive to evolve: yes to Health, yes to Life and yes to Self-love. Yes is also the energy that fuels our creative juices and our life force.

However, there is a time when No is also an act of Self-Love and Evolution. There are times when No is the best thing you can gift yourself and all involved.

Ironically, we’ve generally been taught that No is a bad thing: no is Rejection, no is Limitation, no is Failure. Sometimes we feel the desire to say No but it is “No with Fear” or “No with Guilt”. There is a No that we have rarely been shown: No With Love.

“No with Love” is guilt-free so there is no wavering, confusion or ill feeling. The more peace you have while saying No, the more clarity you are offering to all involved.

Saying No with Guilt can sometimes cause others to misunderstand or misinterpret us. The guilt creates mixed signals so your No may not be heard properly.

In some cases, people will even subconsciously pull on our Guilt strings in order to conjure a Yes from us. We can blame them if we want but in the end, it was our own strings that brought us into the “messy Yes”.

Remember, if you have no Guilt strings, others cannot pull on them.

Even the momentous No that happens during separations and break-ups can be done with Love, not Guilt. Instead of being perceived as a Rejection, we can trust the No is actually a gift of truth.

In the short run, it may be temporarily painful but in the long run, this gift always reveals itself. The more love we bring to the No, the easier it is to receive. This is not about sugar-coating; this is about offering Truth without the Guilt. This is about honoring the Yes that is arriving. It is not just for you, it is for all who are involved in the situation. When the truth is offered, everyone gets the chance to say Yes to something even more resonant.

If someone in your life is prone to inducing Guilt within you, then they are teaching you to say No with Love. Be it your mother, your child, your friend or your lover, you can trust that you are not only setting boundaries, but you are practicing a very powerful form of Love.

Truth is a form of Love and it enables higher teachings. And Truth need not be brutal, it can be gentle yet firm.

Love is Not Based on Yes or No
If you remember only one thing about this article, remember that your Love is not determined by the Yes and it is not voided by the No.

Your Love is on a whole other realm of Truth.

Though our actions and decisions can spring from Love, the No and the Yes that we offer to others does not prove nor devalue our Love. Thus, you can say “No With Love” instead of “No with Guilt”.

When we stop seeing the No as a rejection or limitation, the world can receive your No with more ease.

Even the ending of a relationship does not mean the end of the Love, it is simply the transformation of the container. Therefore, even “No to Relationship” does not mean the end of the Love.

On the flip side, whenever you receive a No, you can use those moments to practice the art of “Receiving No with Love”.  This can be equally challenging!

Whether the No is said lovingly or not, can we learn to receive it with more grace?

Can we practice enough Unattachment to release our powerful expectations?

Can we embody enough unconditional Love to accept the No as the Gift of Truth instead of as the punishment of Rejection?

Receiving someone’s No with acceptance instead of Disappointment, is our gift in return. This practice is a two-way street because the “No with Love” goes both ways: in the Giving and in the Receiving.

I will take a clean No over a messy Yes anytime. I’d rather say No “with Love” than say Yes “with Resentment”.

May we all offer No with increasing trust that a greater Yes arises each time.

May we try our best to allow others the Freedom to say Yes or No, without guilt or judgment.

May we practice receiving and giving Truth with more clarity, trusting that everyone wins in the long run…

~ little woo (1st version May 25, 2010) This version January 5, 2011

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Aaron says:

This article has been an inspiration for me for the last year. Woo, thank you for putting these lessons on paper.