It is the week after the completion of an intense two year course with esteemed Chinese Medicine practitioner, scholar and teacher Lonny Jarrett (called Clinical Integration). I’m reflecting on the two year homework assignment we were given, in addition to all of the readings and practicing what we have learned in class: if you could change anything in your self, that would be nothing but a positive benefit to you and those around you, what would it be? Take that, and do it.
Seems simple enough, right?
After a period of time, your contemplation would give you any variety of answers from focusing on the completion of one major task in your life, to giving you the thing your life needs most but you hate doing, to teaching yourself to not react from the same emotional place again and again.
Just pick a thing, then do it – no matter what.
Like: meditate every day.
Easy as pie.
Except when you get home late, and sleep terribly and have to get up at 6.15am to meditate before work. Except when you learn that your cat-family member has intestinal cancer and every time you close your eyes to meditate you start crying. Except when you are so busy at work, and so filled with things in your head that you have to do for said work, that you forget to meditate because meditating in the morning is not happening and well, you’ve already forgotten one day why bother with tomorrow or today? Except when you are sitting and your legs are in pain and falling asleep no matter how you sit (cushion, chair 1, chair 1, sit after yoga, sit propped up, might as well lay down and take a nap). Except when you sit and close your eyes and the chaos that is in your mind is unleashed and you get overwhelmed and wonder why you should bother because there are so many other things you can do with that half hour a day.
It’s easy when things are going right: you slept great and have no problem getting up at 6.15am. You are able to gracefully deal with the news of an ill family member. You manage everything beautifully at work that day and you come home, get some great sleep and wake up to meditate no problem or meditating as soon as you get home from work is a joy. You find a sitting position that your body loves and you could stay that way for hours. You close your eyes and are able to let go unconditionally and watch the chaos of your mind settle down all at the same time.
Oftentimes, the simplest instructions mean that the task has a level of depth and detail, and difficulty, that one would otherwise miss in a cursory glance. And they take way longer, and have a more complex journey to come to fruition than one might think. (Hene, this every long and intimate post!)
Take playing Bach, on the outside, it looks oh so simple to play. The music tends to be sparse (as compared to Romantic era concertos), yet, the complexity and skills needed to play the music with aplomb are all too easily overrated and you realize you have serious work to do in order to do this well, with success, with what seems like ease to an audience member.
For myself, the contemplation (and initial instruction given to me by my acupuncturist, that I of course did not heed as seriously as I could have) was saying “no” or saying “yes” only when I meant it.
You see, a big issue of mine is taking on things that I do not want to do then feeling resentful about them later. This could be a task at work that’s voluntary yet out of the scope of my responsibilities and not asked by a manager, to letting someone to treat me in a way that is dissatisfactory, but allowing it to continue – not speaking up for myself, never saying “no”.
(Short little aside about our culture::: god forbid, as a woman I would ever want to say no and risk not being liked. I’ve had more conversations with women about this last issue than I can count, it is depressing, frankly – and we need to stand up and say “no” more often. Not just women, mind you, but everyone who feels they are complacent with how they move through their lives!)
It’s a sort of self-perpetuating victimization. It’s a kind of intentional lack of self-authorship. It is rife with a lack of self-agency. It is going with the flow when the flow is drowning you. It is not a life. It is self-imprisonment.
Who wants to live a life like that?
I certainly don’t, and that’s why the past two (plus!) years have been focused on listening to what I want and do not want, and saying yes only when I truly want to; and saying no when there is not a clear yes.
It’s been rough going, but something started clicking a month ago (more than 24 months into this project): I was finally able to say “no”, have the awareness that I hesitate doing so for fear of not being liked, and saying “no” anyway THEN feeling so much better afterwards. Well, better after the anxiety of saying no and the fear of not being liked (which includes the other person getting upset by me saying no, by the by) anymore dissipated… The key in this sentence, is that over time I developed the ability to see that I was hesitating, then giving myself the space/time/etc to ask why then seeing that it is an imaginary construct of my own (thus, society’s) making AND that I could choose to act differently because it was best for me. Lastly, when I chose to act differently, I could do so without being defensive and instead be understanding and compassionate, and to not take things personally.
Now, 24 months is a really long time right? But here’s the other neat thing that happened recently, when this clicked, I also saw all the ways I said “no” to myself, it was a huge “aha” moment – linking the two together. I knew for a long time that I cut out of things that I want to do when they get hard, and instead stay in things too long that I don’t want. In seeing that I hesitate to say no out of fear of not being liked, I saw all the ways I said no to the things that I really want to do in my life for fear of failing myself and instead not like myself.
It’s a dichotomy that I’m still finding my way through. It’s a core issue for someone with an Earth constitution. (I promise I’ll start discussing constitutions soon!) It’s also a core issue for many women in this society, who are considered “natural nurturers” and are raised to put themselves last. It’s a core issue when you grow up seeing the primary women in your life doing these things, and think it is normal, expected, ideal, “right”.
Putting ourselves, our heart/soul desires, our needs, our spirits, our essence, last is not ideal. It is a travesty.
It is a form of self-improsonment wherein you take your Heart and soul and refuse to nurture it, bit by bit, isolating yourself and cutting yourself off from what you love and need the most. It is the soul’s version of solitary confinement.
Taking the things you love away, like a naughty child’s toy would be taken away for misbehavior, because you clearly do not deserve to have said love/toy so it must be taken away.
Except, how was I misbehaving or undeserving by participating in life, doing the things I love? Oh, right, by saying yes to people/behavior/situations/etc. when I meant no, and by saying “no, you don’t have what it takes to see this ((project)) beyond this point, give up and move on to something else.” That’s what happened recently, I finally (possibly, maybe) got to the deep, gnarled, and complex root of this “never say no, always say yes to others” issue, looked at it for what was and how I allowed certain incidents to dictate my life choices, then let it go so I can move forward with this tendency in my awareness. (Obviously there is more to it than what I’ve written here, but it is more personal than I am willing to share at the moment, and it’s not necessarily important to share in this context.)
Because this is self-imprisonment, I can leave any time I want. It’s a choice that’s simple to make and act from and hard to not automatically default to old-ways. It’s a habit that needs to be broken, this self-imprisonment…
I’m not giving up – I’m holding my ground. I’m remembering what it is that I default to doing, catching myself, then choosing to act from the better place for me. I’m seeing what unfolds next, what else my Heart asks me to say yes to, and I choose to nurture and let that grow instead of cutting it down. I’m reminding myself that I AM enough to see all of these things through, and that cultivating a sense of “I have what it takes” is certainly more powerful than letting things go prematurely. I feel like I’m folding myself into a strong piece of steel, or creating a deep strong foundation in my life-house.
I feel more of my true self coming to light. And this true self is big, is powerful and strong, and is filled to the brim with life. This true self is ready to take on what life throws at her.
So now, I’m speaking up. I’m saying no, and I’m really listening to my inner self and what others are saying to me. I’m taking what others are saying to me seriously, and I’m asking questions and being willing to say, “hmmm, I need to think about this different perspective” and saying “I’m sorry” when I need to. I’m not waffling, or wishy-washy. I’m scaring myself a little, because when you start things like this the messages (from yourself and others) become loud and clear. While the going has been rough at times, it has been so much better a ride than before this project/assignment began.
It may not seem much to those who have no problems saying no, or doing the things that their Heart calls them to do, because you may have other things that you would choose to change to make your life better, and it has been huge for me.
For me, right now this has been nothing but a positive difference for myself and those around me. How can it not be nothing but a positive difference?
What would you change, that would make nothing but a positive difference for you and those around you?
This is but one of many things that I had the privilege of learning in my two year training with Lonny Jarrett. It has impacted my clinical herbalism practice more than I would be able to express, because I’m now the change that I sought to be. It is doable, it is hard, it is right, it is true, and it has helped to make my life more beautiful than ever. Many thanks to you, Lonny. Xie xie.