Saying Yes to Saying No

Saying Yes to Saying No

Saying Yes to Saying No

My continued “retirement curriculum” led me recently to join a Zoom group of local psychotherapists in various stages of leaning into retirement; which led to sharing inspiring resources which led to Wise Aging: Living with Joy, Resilience, and Spirit which led to “saying yes to saying no is a form of holy chutzpah.” 

I’ve taught saying yes to yes for a very, very long time. Saying yes to potential clients who struggles were overwhelming them and might even overwhelm me, except that taking a chance opened the door to some of the most rewarding and inspiring work I’ve ever done. (Them, too, with great deserved pride.) 

Early on my mentor and hiking buddy Rick Hanson encouraged me to say yes to everything to get known and established; you can always pare down later. Those times of saying yes led to teaching resilience in venues that I might that thought overwhelming – teaching clinicians working with domestic violence and sexual abuse in the orthodox religious community in Jerusalem, or veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Deepening my own capacities to say yes.

I’ve just discovered Viktor Frankl’s Yes to Life In Spite of Everything, first published in English in 2020, based on lectures Frankl gave in 1946, less than a year after being liberated from 3 ½ years in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Courage and resilience…in spite of everything.

And…around my 70th birthday I realized that AGE stood for Awe, Gratitude, Equanimity. And the most difficult of the three practices was equanimity. “Looking out on life with quiet eyes,” as Howard Thurman said. 

In all of the busyness of human doing – planning, decision making, solving, and resolving – permission to step off the wheel into a quiet spaciousness that returns a sense of balance and equanimity that allows room for new possibilities, new perspectives, new options to emerge.

So saying yes to saying no is becoming an integral part of my retirement curriculum. I’m learning that saying no to so much stressing and strategizing allows a spaciousness to open up in my thinking, my human being rather than human doing. Saying no is more than saying no to activities. It’s saying no to identifying myself with those activities, with those roles and the rewards of doing those roles well. 

It’s returning to anchoring in a spiritual practice that allows me to remember and come into alignment again with the deepest wisdom of an authentic life: kindness, compassion, generosity, gratitude, ways of being far beyond being merely words. 

I will still be teaching the resilience mindset as the heart of post-traumatic growth in my last hurrah’s of teaching this spring. 

Resilience 2.0 online course begins March 3, 2022

Cultivating a Resilience Mindset [in person] at Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, Washington, D.C., March 10, 2022. Use code SYM50 for discount.

The Resilience Mindset: Learning and Growing through Disappointment, Difficulty, Even Disaster, online for Professional Counsellors and Psychotherapy Seminars of Ireland, May 20-22, 2022. Use code graham50 for discount.

The Resilience Mindset, in person at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Stockbridge, MA, June 3-6, 2022 (Re-scheduled from the doozy of the “I Couldn’t get there from here” winter storm in early February. Link available soon. See I Could Use a Moment of Something Working…)

The Resilience Mindset, in person at Cape Cod Institute, Cape Cod, MA, July 27-July 1, 2022.

And here’s an exercise that helps me say no and let go…

“If you’re too busy to meditate, you’re too busy.” 


1. Sit comfortably. Allow your eyes to gently close. Focus your awareness on your breathing, gently in and out. As you follow your breathing, notice your own awareness of your breathing, the awareness that allows you to know that you are breathing.

2. When that awareness of your breathing is steady, begin to notice the breathing of any people around you, or people you imagine being around you. There’s no need to do anything; just notice or imagine other people breathing as you are breathing, and notice your awareness of that. Notice what you are aware of in your own being as you rest in this awareness.

3. Staying anchored in an awareness of your own breathing, expand your awareness of breathing to include the breathing of more people you know, who are not necessarily physically near you. Notice your awareness of everyone breathing. Notice your awareness of your own being as you remain aware.

4. Still anchored in an awareness of your own breathing, expand your awareness further to include people you don’t know, outside the building you are in, perhaps elsewhere in the neighborhood, throughout the city, across the region. Become aware of all of them breathing together. Notice your awareness of your awareness: you are simply being, and being aware.

5. Continue to expand your awareness to include people breathing all over the country, all over the planet. Expand your awareness to include all living creatures breathing in the parks, the forests, underground, in the lakes and rivers, in the oceans, the sky, of all sentient beings breathing together. Notice your awareness of existence, and your awareness of simply being.

6. Expand your awareness to include all forms of existence, some breathing, some not — the air, the water, the rocks. And notice your awareness of the breathing, and your awareness of simply being.

7. Expand your awareness beyond our planet to other planets, other stars, other galaxies, and the space between the planets and stars and galaxies, as far as you can possibly imagine; notice your awareness of your awareness expanding. Rest comfortably, safely, in this vast spacious awareness, in this vast simply being, for as long as you choose. Take your time.

8. Gently bring your awareness back to your awareness of sitting in the room you are in, in this moment, breathing. Focus your awareness on simply breathing. Take a moment to shift gears and reflect on your experience of simply being. You may experience a lightness, a spaciousness, or an openness in your being.

On reflection after this exercise, you may realize that at some point your sense of self dropped away. You can come back to that sense of self in a heartbeat anytime you need to. But you did not need a sense of self to experience the vastness of awareness accessible in this practice of awareness.

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