The Magical Construction of No. And Yes.
No. Just say it. It sounds so powerful. No. Some people have trouble saying no, whether it be to a desire or to pressure from others or even to something that might hurt them. Others say it almost all the time. Think of children in their terrible twos saying it like a mantra. No is necessary for you to exist and taken too far it can kill you. It can feel good or horrible. And it can disappear like a passing cloud. So, every once and awhile, analyze the sense of no so you don’t hold on to it too tightly. Here is one analysis.
For the two year old, no is a necessary element of the maturation of a sense of independence, a sense that you can influence the awesome power of your caregivers. It does this by distinguishing “me-here” from “you-there.” The philosopher Ken Wilber said that any identity is a circle drawn so that what is inside is me and outside is all others, or not-me. No makes a me who stands up in the world and demands recognition. “You must listen, to me.” It creates the impression that the power to act independently is dependent on a sense of a distinct, acknowledged self.
The power of no is enhanced by how, and how much, you are cared for and can receive the care. Love can confer power, value, on an identity. If parents/caregivers tie love to acting or being a certain way, a further boundary can develop and the child’s sense of self gets smaller. The parts not accepted by the parents are not accepted by the child and pushed outside the circle to hide them away. Carl Jung called what was hidden the shadow.
When parental love isn’t clear, the child can be confused. He can go around putting a no in places just to demand a love to arise. Or she can fear no as if it were the magic or curse that drives love away. So, who you are and how powerful you feel is sculpted by love.
And then there’s yes. Every boundary line is both no and yes. No is the shadow of yes. The self is a me you say yes to bounded by a no. Do you say yes to your eyes? Hands? But who says yes to their nose hairs? Between no and yes there is and must be some pushing and shoving going on. In yes you give back and enjoy. In no, you push away and deny. The two are dynamically one.
Could you touch others if you didn’t have a boundary? Without your skin, there wouldn’t be any touching. If the bottom of your feet didn’t push against the earth, how could you walk? Ken Wilber also pointed out that a border is a place of contact. So, to think of the skin as only a boundary is to mistake its very nature. To think of the self as only “me, in here” is to mistake its nature. How you think of your boundaries has a lot to do with how you relate to the rest of the world.
These yeses and nos are not just ideas. You can mistake them for reality. You can feel them strongly. As a student you might say yes to listening to music and no to studying math or social studies. You can forget that what you think of as your self, your likes and dislikes, is a response to a particular situation. It changes. When you bring yes and no to awareness, you have the possibility of letting them go. Practice the following with yourself, and then, if you’re a teacher, with your students.
Close your eyes for a second and let your attention go to your inner world. Just take a breath in, and out. Notice if there is any tension as you breathe in or out. Where is it? Go there. What is the quality or feeling of the tension? Is it painful, stiff, scrunched up—a ‘no’ of some sort? Or a ‘yes’? Or neither? Notice how tension arises– or how it is just there. Then notice any gaps or lessening of tension. Notice how it changes and dissipates. The no dissolves into something else.
With clear attention, the gaps in any sensation are noticed and extended. Letting go is easier. It is helpful, especially when you are relatively new to mindfulness, to move attention around to different areas of the body.
With your next inhalation, go to somewhere else in your body. Notice the pressure as you inhale. As you exhale, notice how you let go.
As I meditate, I notice a tension, a pain across my chest. It pulls strongly on my body. When I attend to it, the pain at first seems clear, sharp. The no—and yes—can feel like absolutes. As I breathe in, I feel the history of where yes becomes no, of how I was first loved and cared for. The shape of my boundary, my sense of myself, is the shape that my felt capacity for yes, for love, creates. Yet, I rewrite this with each breath. The pain dissipates. How big can you allow your yes to be? Can you say yes even to no?
As I stay with the pain, accept it by attending to it without saying no, or saying anything, it softens. It feels almost aerated, bubbly, and then it’s gone. There is no sense of boundaries, of me and you. Only awareness.
Of course, its not just love that shapes us, nor is simply wanting enough to reshape us. Insight and self-awareness practice is needed. A person needs not just love—or genetics. Just think how your neighborhood, economic class, gender, or wars, a tornado, polluted water, a falling comet, the sound of birds affect you. It takes a universe to raise a person.