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.