Over the weekend, I heard a powerful podcast centering on a single question, “Who is the poorest person on the Earth?” The answers range from the obvious to the philosophical. I urge you to listen to the 1o minute podcast. It will push you to consider your own perspective about this inquiry.

The most interesting part of the discussion involved the word, “no.” How many times do you say no? The podcast points to one crucial point: “Saying no is its own power.” I massaged these six words in my mind and contemplated all the times I wanted say no, but buckled because of various reasons – whether it involved my fear of missing out, activities involving my daughter or some societal obligation. It is sometimes difficult to draw the line between pursuing what you desire to accomplish in your life, but also practicing mindfulness about your personal roles. In the last few months, I’ve noticed a shift in my thinking and am getting closer to trying to balance the tug and pull of pursuits and obligations.

Cemented in midlife, the ideas and assumptions of my twenties and thirties are fading away. I don’t spend hours of my time contemplating why I am not included in certain circles or wondering why I am unable to fit in – sometimes saying no means stopping behavior or a mindset which fixates on less important matters – to offer room for what is the sustenance in your life. For me, it means saying yes to more nights at home, with my family, eating dinner together and bantering about our days or acting silly with one other. Recognizing those tiny slices of an ordinary life – an impromptu hug from my daughter, a meaningful glance with my husband or quiet time in my office contemplating a new piece of writing or reading are all experiences which offer connection and simple joy. To gather more of these moments, I realize it requires saying no to situations and people who don’t necessarily support what might matter the most.

I’ve started whittling down what fulfills me at the core level. It isn’t days of being overbooked or superficial conversations which never push past discussions involving the weather. I’ve reduced the number of self-created errands and obligations that only serve as distractions to my goals. This philosophy is in line with my word of the year, quiet. And much of what I wrote midyear about this word still holds true: The key is determining whether my yes trumps what I am choosing to decline. Saying “no” isn’t always the comfortable or easy choice, but continuing to lose my footing in my personal slipstream creates a resentment I am unwilling to ignore. What bothers me about this path is I am ignoring the heartbeat of my life. Why am I fighting the current? I hurt only my personal well-being and mind. The words of Norman Juster come to mind, yet again:

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”

There is power in saying no. It means allowing more room for quiet. And for me, it means a more contented life.


Image: No by Nathan Gibbs via Flickr