Sages, scholars and other bloggers say “yes” is the most powerful word in the world. A “yes” can transform a life. Take for example the “si” I said to a trip to Cuba this month. As a fearful person, “no” is my go-to response, especially if it means being out of my comfort zone. But in the years since first hearing the Buena Vista Social Club, I have told many who would listen that Cuba was special to me, so now I will travel there. Fear notwithstanding, I choose to say yes.
While saying no to things feels like the safest thing to do, especially when that no is driven by certainty or by fear, one of the first lessons I learned in an improvisation class was the necessity of saying yes to our dialogue partner. Yes allows a dialogue to remain a dialogue and furthers the action. “No” slams the door. In life as in improv, "yes" encourages connection. Trusting your partner energizes the scene.
My love affair with “yes” was inspired by Irish author James Joyce when at the end of Ulysses, he gives Molly Bloom the stream of consciousness soliloquy of yeses to top all yeses . “And then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.”
When I think about life and the yeses I have said before knowing the consequences, I am amazed at the courage or foolishness that prompted these yeses and in awe of what flowed from them. I said yes to becoming a journalism adviser, yes to moving to San Francisco. And every “yes” became a turning point.
Even when a “yes” later became a "no" I think of that “no” as a “yes” to something else. Sometimes saying “no” can lead to a dead end, particularly when that “no” comes from fear and the need to feel that life is safe and certain. But not always. A considered “no” can be about boundaries.
I am remembering the Olivia Cruise to Mexico I agreed to take a year ago March and how I rescinded that “yes.” The “no” to the cruise became a “yes” to putting my needs first. That "yes" took me to unexplored places such as relational therapy which led to mindfulness meditation, a practice that embraces an ongoing "yes" of the heart to the pain of being human.
As John Welwood says, “ You can develop a simple practice of saying yes to yourself each day. Stop for a moment, pay attention to whatever’s going on inside you, and then acknowledge it in a neutral way: ‘yes, this is what’s here.’” A meditative “yes” is not about conjuring the power of positive thinking. Rather it is a willingness to allow what arises, even the pain--especially the pain--to remain and be looked at with awareness, curiosity and mercy.
Tara Brach calls saying yes to the present moment “Radical Acceptance.” She says that we accept “absolutely everything we are feeling about ourselves and our lives by embracing with wakefulness and care our moment-to-moment experience. By accepting absolutely everything… It means feeling sorrow and pain without resisting. It means feeling desire or dislike for someone or something without judging ourselves for the feeling or being driven to act on it. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation."
Like Molly Bloom, I say yes, yes, and then again yes.