Yes Requires No

This morning I was talking to a client about how important it is to be able to say ‘no’. There’s the obvious stuff about boundaries and how we need to be able to say ‘no’ in order to protect ourselves against potential harm. It’s analogous to the pain reaction you’d have if you put your hand on a hot stove. Without boundaries and the ability to act on them by saying no, we could get badly burned.

But we were talking about something different this morning. We were talking about how you need to be confident in your ability to say ‘no’ in order to be able to say ‘yes’ wholeheartedly.  I’m sure you know how it is when  someone agrees to something but then makes it clear in indirect ways that he or she really wanted to say ‘no.’ It might be passive-aggressive behavior, a pouty mood, withdrawal. The ‘no’ just has a way of seeping out no matter what.

On the other hand, if we feel free to say “no”, our “yes” is uncontaminated. Personally, people who are able to say both “yes” and “no” in this wholehearted way seem more trustworthy to me. If you ask your friend to feed your cat while you’re out of town, it would feel a lot better if you absolutely knew that she would say no if she chose to. And if she said yes, she meant yes.There would be no need to waste energy wondering how she really felt.

Any meaningful relationship should be able to accommodate ‘no’ as an answer sometimes, even if that results in disappointment or worse. What you get in return is the ability to relax with confidence that when the answer is ‘yes’,  it’s really ‘yes’.


The Quote I Love Today

The Dalai Lama was asked what surprises him most. He replied: “Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”

Thanks, Mom

Sometimes parenting can seem like a never-ending slog. Often it is a thankless job. Afterall, how many 8 year olds do you know that say, “Wow, mom…I cannot believe how much you do for me and how my well-being is paramount to you every hour of every day. I wish I could find a way to express my appreciation.”

If you are feeling unappreciated and fatigued by the sometimes-slog of it all, check out a poem called “The Lanyard” by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Here’s a link:


Martha Graham

In a parallel universe I hope I can be friends with Martha Graham. It’s not really about the dancing though I’m imaging that would be close to Nirvana. It’s more that she seemed to have such an holistic wisdom—one that integrated mind, body and spirit. Here is a quote attributed to her that rings like a clear bell to me:

“There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening
that is translated through you into action
and because there is only one of you in all of time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it,
it will never exist through any other medium and
be lost.
The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is
nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to be open and aware
directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open.”

I’m recalling my stint at the Gestalt Institute here in Cleveland when I was first introduced to the idea of the NOW. Back then, post sixties, “live in the here and now” was a popular mantra. Today (thank you Edkhart Tolle) the mantra has been updated to, “live in the moment”. It’s such a good idea…so why is it so damn difficult to do?

Could it be,in part, that we hear live FOR the moment instead of IN the moment. For the moment sounds carefree, even flighty. Hard to do if you’re care laden and responsible. In the moment is about being aware. It does not mean you have to enjoy the moment. In fact, if it really stinks, you can try for a different moment. You can eat ice cream or run an errand for a friend.


I was thinking this morning about the power of books (while i was reading the book review section of the paper, so not really out of the blue). Books are like shamans or magicians. They can provide distraction, information, entertainment, instruction, comfort, insight, etc. etc.

One book i have recommended to clients over the years is the memoir by Mary Karr called Liar’s Club. For people who have had the misfortune of a highly tumultuous and dysfunctional childhood her humor and equanimity about her situation can be inspiring. To me she has  a therapeutic distance from her childhood which seems to have enabled her to move beyond feeling victimized.

There is a link to a review in the lower right hand portion of the blog. Check it out.

The Tricky Compliment

The other evening, I had dinner with a friend who had just given a talk at a local college and gotten kudos for her effort. She enjoyed doing it but said she was indifferent to compliments that once she would have loved. Is that an aging thing she asked me. H-mm. I said maybe at this point in her life she is less concerned with what others’ think of her or maybe she is just so secure in her work that compliments don’t mean much. The rest of the week, because I have that kind of brain, I was very aware of how compliments function and what people do with them.

For one thing, I know who not to compliment. I have a couple of friends who brush praise off as if it were an annoying mosquito. (One such friend writes for this blog). It doesn’t seem like false modesty or embarrassment. It’s more like something they just don’t want to deal with. If anyone has ideas on this one, I would love to hear them.

Another compliment incident happened at a friend’s house. One of her guests came in praising everything in sight. She loved my friend’s outfit, her house, her cooking, her pets, her amazing new bathroom etc. It went on way too long to feel genuine and I wondered what purpose it was serving. Was she trying to make herself comfortable or liked, or was this her idea of connecting. My friend smiled through it but the barrage did have a bit of an aggressive edge.

Then, towards the end of the week, I got an email from a niece whom I rarely see but she had been in town recently and we spent a little time together. She said how much she liked seeing me and mentioned a couple of things about me she admired. It was nice but I thought no more about it. Later that day, I was aware of being in a sunny mood for no reason I could think of as the day had not been going well. Then I got it. That little compliment from my niece had nestled down inside me, sending out a low glow. The fact that she was my niece was only a small part of my response. I realized that a compliment from a stranger or someone I rarely see goes over well with me. It’s both uncluttered and a pleasant surprise.

A fourth bump up against the tricky compliment happened yesterday. I was to meet someone, a perfectly nice person, but I was tired and didn’t want to be “on”. But this person requires, let’s say demands, attention, a lot of it in the form of compliments. I tend to resist that kind of pull.

Then there’s the opposite of the above; the person who never pays compliments. I bet all of us have someone in our lives like that. Not necessarily a grumpy person. A person who might, in fact, be generous in lots of other ways.

PS If anyone has something good to say about Pocket Shrink, I am totally open to that!