The Yes Or No Question

I usually fall asleep within minutes of going to bed. But several weeks ago, I lay wide awake for two hours, unable to still my mind.

I didn’t feel anxious or stressed. I wasn’t nervous or excited about an upcoming event. My mind was just racing randomly from one thought or subject to another.

I went through the different meditation techniques I know. I visualized myself practicing taijiquan. I surrendered the desire to “fix” this and opened to the possibility that I might be awake all night. With all of these approaches, my mind would go quiet for a few seconds and then start spinning again.

Finally, not in desperation but in curiosity, I asked, “What’s going on?

Suddenly I felt walls go up throughout my mind, my energy field, my life. I was holding the world at bay with these multi-layered walls. It wasn’t just the distant world either. Turning my awareness to my wife, asleep at my side, I felt the same kind of walls barricading our relationship as well.

I’d never seen these walls so widespread and in such a visceral way. The energy invested and expended in them was intense. It was the energy of “No!”

Initially, I was at a loss at how to respond. But then I asked myself, “What if I just say, ‘Yes!’?”

So I did. I said “Yes!” throughout my mind, my field, my life, into the structures of those walls along my relationship lines.

And just as suddenly as they had appeared in response to my question, “What’s going on?” the walls melted away and I felt a huge release of tension. My mind stopped spinning. And minutes later, I fell into a deep and restful sleep.

As a shy person, I’ve said “No” a lot in my life: No to large gatherings, crowded rooms and, in general, to situations and events outside my comfort zone. I’ve also said no to things I find unpleasant: loudness, arrogance, aggression.

Being able to say “No” is important. Essential. But it needs to be a situational, not a habitual response. That was the message of my inner walls. When “No!” becomes routine, it calcifies and becomes toxic.

It also becomes blind. Saying “No” to loudness, arrogance, and aggression becomes saying “No” to loud, arrogant, or aggressive people. Saying “No” to the small, irritating habits of our partners and friends becomes “No” to them, personally.

Walls become thicker, higher, and more numerous as more individual people fail to live up to expectations or shared sensibilities. All those walls demand massive amounts of energy to be sustained, cut us off from life-sustaining flow, and leave us increasingly vulnerable to our daily life devolving into an adversarial battlefield.

When I laid in bed that night and said, “Yes!” I was saying, “Life is precious and universal. We can be different without being adversaries. I can defend myself without cutting you off. I can be offended, angry, and outraged and still remember our connections. And if I forget momentarily, I can come back to that recognition.”

I’ve been practicing. Trying to make “Yes!” my baseline response to life, and limiting “No!” to specific situations or actions, but not to the people making them.

It’s a whole new conversation. I don’t always remember. Sometimes I have to remind myself, figuratively retrace my steps, and heal a reactionary “No!” with a conciliatory, inclusive “Yes!”

It’s a work in progress. But the preliminary response has been promising.

3 thoughts on “The Yes Or No Question

  1. I love this, and yet I feel it is incomplete. It’s a story of the power of Yes. And yet for many, the doorway to Yes is through the power of No. The power of a good Yes and No are two essential skills to have, to learn, yet many of us have not. The “terrible twos” is the first stage where we begin to develop a sense of separate self, and many people are depressed their whole life because their sense of self was not nurtured at this stage. A true No sets healthy boundaries so our sense of self and our life force can grow. As a body-oriented therapist, I see the lack of “a good NO” at our retreats. As people practice their No (for example by literally “putting their foot down”) their sense of empowerment increases and they no longer identify as a defeated 2-year-old but can stand up as an adult in the present moment who can choose life, to live and flourish. What emerges out of the No is an emphatic YES to life. The old walls of protection naturally crumble along with a sense of victimhood, and a newfound sense of excitement and joy can emerge.


    1. Thank you Jon. I agree that it’s essential to be able to say no. And for those who have been unable to do so, it can be an especially freeing and empowering experience to be given that opportunity and the means to claim their right to say it.
      What I was describing was my personal experience in response to my own No statements. Based on my experience that night and in general, I do believe that saying Yes to life is the “ground” that opens us to the ceaseless flow of life AND the discerning power to say No in response to particular situations. Yes and No are not mutually exclusive, nor is it an all or nothing proposition. But in my experience, Yes is opening and inclusive while No is situational, deflecting and exclusive. So each has its role and its time. What I was describing was what happened to me when I let my No responses linger beyond their functional moment; and the realization that for me, saying Yes not TO everything, but IN THE MIDST of everything is the path I’m going to try to walk.
      Thanks again for your insightful comments and your clear presence.


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