“No.” I say firmly toward a brick wall in front of me. “Nope. Nuh-uh. Not good enough. No.” Next to me Tiffany asserts: “No way. No. No!” To the same wall.
OK, not exactly to the wall. The first exercise at the fifth meeting of the Free Your Voice workshop is to spend five minutes saying no, with our bodies and voices, saying no to whatever doesn’t serve us any more, to leave all that behind before we can say yes to whatever.
(The next five minute exercise would be about saying yes.)
In one-on-ones later, my partner shared that she felt her boundaries were strong and she knew what and who to say no to, except she sometimes wouldn’t anyway, lest she would be impolite or pressured to explain. My noes and boundaries were all over the place. I would say no automatically, as if to protect myself, but then I would neglect to say no likewise thoughtlessly.
One point of the exercise is to attend to our relationship with our noes, our yeses, our boundaries. For the generously long 5 minutes just for the noes. Interesting. There, before the brick wall, with 5 minutes just for that, I saw that I needed to say no to relating to you dear. Nope. Not good enough. Nuh-uh.
In the last 30 seconds Amber invited us to express the no in the way that felt the truest. I expressed mine and thought of Buddha Maitreya, from studying Eastern art back in high school: my right hand went into Abhayamudrā.
I felt a little more free. I felt plenty sad. I grieved a little bit after the 5 minutes. The yeses were bleak.
There is a familiar joy in walking out, in breathing the open air of the road with ease, in buoyant cool emptiness between decisions, between jobs, between homes, between coasts, between continents, between lovers. The emptiness resonates with the victorious bang of the door being slammed closed. The emptiness is laced with power to abandon before I would be abandoned. What a wonderful easy way to be afraid of nothing. Close the accounts, kill all the prisoners, freedom to all that remains (not much).
You were still away. I had work to do. I talked to friends over the next few days to get the no out there, to resonate it, to validate it. I heard back what I wanted to hear. It sounded a bit foreign, but doesn’t everything new? I felt a little lost and a little dead.
Over the past couple of years, I used to talk about you all the time. With anyone. Weird how that would happen: I’d just open my mouth, and out came a story about a cool thing you did, or something interesting you said, or something entertaining that we did together. Not so much after I said no. Kill all the prisoners.
Yet all you ever did to me was being a good friend, being consistently, often unexpectedly, helpful whenever I needed that. You held me with your hands open, you witnessed calmly and kindly, when I wasn’t at my best, you spoke the truth.
As you started on your way back, I felt alive again. In your presence, when you arrived, I felt like home. Which is somewhat hypothetical: my physical prototypical home didn’t feel like home. What do I know.
There are noes and yeses. There is heart, and mind, and heart again. There is the road, and there is home. There is fear and there is love. The former comes with walking, with shutting down, with fighting. The latter, with staying, with speaking the truth, with surrendering. Do they? At this time, I choose the latter. Abhayamudrā is not so much about no as about protection, dispelling fear, turning hurled rocks into flowers.
“The opposite of what you know is also true”, Timber wrote in “Buddhist Boot Camp“. “A lesson will repeat itself until you learn it,” he later quoted somebody anonymous out there. All I know, I am still learning.
तस्मै श्री गुरवे नमः