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The Power of No

Photographer: Brian Cattelle

Photographer: Brian Cattelle

We hear so much about the importance of saying “yes” in life – to change, to new adventures and opportunities, to new relationships, etc.  But lately I’ve been fascinated by the incredible power of saying “no.” Of course I might say it more politely as in “no thank-you” or “I would love to but unfortunately...”  Nevertheless I’ve finally found the guts to really say “no” and stick to it and the results are indescribably wonderful. 

It has taken five years of hard and uncomfortable work to get to this point.  It started in my 500-hour Teacher Training when James taught me that “No” was a complete sentence.  It sounds so simple but this was absolutely mind-blowing to me.  I mean, MIND-BLOWING!  The idea that I could say “no” to an invitation that did not excite me or to a friendship that drained me without feeling guilty was something I simply could not wrap my head around!

I am an introvert in a hugely extroverted role.  As a yoga teacher, I meet hundreds upon hundreds of people.  The men and women who attend my classes and trainings are extraordinary individuals with fascinating lives.  Their stories are of great interest to me.  I want to better get to know each and every single one of these men and women!  It has been a steep learning curve for me to accept that I simply can’t.

In my own limited experience, it is virtually impossible to earn a living as a yoga teacher and so for the last seven years, there has been a certain amount of hustle.  Especially after Paul died, I allowed work to become my entire focus.  Fueled by grief but also inspired by the powerful reminder that life is precious and brief, I really began to push myself.  My brain was always working: challenging myself to take risks, thinking outside the box, experimenting with different class formats, putting together experiences that I hoped others might enjoy.  My main source of joy over the last three years has been witnessing the triumphs of the men and women who come to my classes.  It has filled my life with great meaning to watch each of their journeys unfold.

Creatively it was a hugely fulfilling time – an accelerated self-directed learning adventure poring over anatomy books and spending hours upon hours on my mat exploring and making discoveries that I could then share in my classes.  I was able to do all of this because I was single.  I hunkered down and got an enormous amount done including writing 600 pages of my teacher training manual.  Mr. Two-Bits, Gabriel and I became a tightknit and self-sufficient pack.  I figured out how to live on my own.  I really lived like a hermit besides my lunches with my dear friend Cathy and my trips to Senor Burrito with my pals Kristen and Matt.

I didn’t notice it happening at first but one day I woke up and realized that all of the joy had drained out of my life. I realized that I had made no room in my heart or in my life for love.  From that day forward, every time I laid out my mat to begin my practice, I would say the following prayer: “I open my heart to love.  I open my heart to joy.”  I would say it viscerally with every single cell of my being.  Every day.  Over and over.  I started to feel myself softening.

It helps so much to know clearly who we are and what our heart truly longs for.  I don’t think it is our job to judge what matters to us most.  I think it is our job to be true to it. Then choices about how we live our day-to-day lives become simple and relatively effortless.

As a new friend said to me on a walk recently, “Just because we can do something does not mean that we should.” 

A pivotal moment for me came in the lululemon ambassador training that I attended two years ago during the “vision and goal setting” session.  The trajectory I was on was leading me out into the world and in a public role.  I had workshops, retreats and teacher trainings lined up both nationally and internationally and it would have been easy to keep going along that path. To succeed would have required the strategic use of social media and some intelligent marketing – both of which are things that make me want to barf. This path was not what my heart truly longed for. But more importantly, what it required of me in my day-to-day life was not in harmony with my values or my deeper sense of purpose.  I have absolutely zero interest in becoming a brand or building a yoga empire lol.  I have a deep interest in balance and harmony and peace.  I have a deep interest in living quietly and simply in a spectacularly beautiful natural environment. This became startlingly apparent to me during that weekend.  I realized that the goals I had been setting myself did not support my deeper purpose.  I had to shift gears.

This past June, I packed up my car and Gabriel and Mr. Two-Bits and I headed North for the summer – bound for a teaching job in Canada.  I had not planned on stopping in Deer Isle.  But on June 18th, driving through the dense fog and in the dark, I arrived in Stonington.  The roads came back to me even though it had been over ten years since my last visit.  Smelling the fresh air coming in through the open windows and looking up at the tall trees lining the roads, I knew instinctively that I was home. Within 8 days, I had made the decision to move here and it is one of the best choices I have ever made. 

I still had some teaching commitments lined up for July, August and September.  In those three months, I drove over 6,000 miles, flew over 11,000 miles, gave away half of my earthly belongings, put the other half in storage, packed up my car with my two beloved boys and we arrived here on October 1st.

It seems to me that speed gets trapped in the psyched, trapped in the body, and that our nervous system gets habituated to a certain amount of stimuli and stress.  Moving to Deer Isle I wanted to give myself the opportunity to claim a different way and pace of life for myself.

I thrive on endless stretches of alone time.  I love having hours to do absolutely nothing. I love puttering around in my robe, drinking tea with an empty mind, and just being. I’ve learned how to safeguard my privacy and my quiet, unhurried days as if my life depended on them.  I’ve learned sometimes I have to get in the ring, put my gloves on, and really scrap for these things.  We live in a place and an age of more.  I choose less. In a culture that reveres busyness and a full to-do list, it can feel awkward and uncomfortable to say no to experiences that others might tell you that you are crazy to turn down.  It all boils down to understanding what makes you tick.  For better or for worse, I do not seem to be motivated by money or popularity or success.  So the pursuit of these things will never be sustainable for me.  I am a died-in-the-wool romantic who couldn’t care a whit about having a fancy car or a big house but who is deeply motivated by goodness and truth and hope and love and simplicity and peace.  Other people might be bored to tears by my life, by the lack of stimulation. But the slow rhythm of my days is what makes them feel impossibly rich to me. 

The catch is that most people I meet fascinate and delight me.  Most invitations I am intrinsically curious about. Men and women generously invite me to join them for activities and new experiences that I would relish.  These are men and women whose company I would genuinely enjoy.  Each individual represents a relationship I could easily grow to cherish.  Social media and smart phones compound the issue.  They expand our human network and possibility for connection beyond our actual capacity.  The choice is either to spread myself too thin, to dissipate my attention in many different directions, thereby diluting the quality and limiting the depth of my relationships; or, to accept that there is only one of me. I cannot be all things to all people.  And I cannot do it all. 

The last 5 months have felt like a prolonged detox from speed itself. And I’ve finally learned how to say “no!” – no to job offers, to the pull of technology, to social invitations, to service commitments.  

I never stopped saying the following prayer: “I open my heart to love.  I open my heart to joy.” 

I saw Kerry within my first week of moving to Stonington and I knew my life was about to change completely. Even without speaking one word to each other, I knew my prayer had been answered.

All I have ever really wanted for my life is to love a man well and to share a happy home together. It’s hard to truly cherish someone when you are always checking e-mail and responding to texts and studying and practicing yoga and gunning forward. With this incredible person who has come into my life, I have let myself truly relax.  I’ve learned how to say no to other things so that I can say yes to him.  And yes to me too.  We walk in the woods, we ride in the truck with the heat on and listen to music, we go to the store, we cook, I stand on his toes on my tippy toes and kiss him in the kitchen, we sit by the fire and eat icecream, we slow dance in the livingroom, we go for a date-night at There’s a Treat, we watch t.v., and we laugh and laugh and laugh, and we do all of the things which matter so much to me.

I could not be more grateful. 


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