You Can’t Say YES if You Can’t Say NO
by Brenda Shoshanna – New York City

boy looking in mirror

We are constantly invited to be who we are.
– Henry David Thoreau

There are many recovery groups these days: groups for alcohol issues, drug abuse, relationship abuse, sexual addiction, eating disorders, addictions of all kinds. How about recovery of the Self?

Addictions and obsessions are fueled by hunger for our real Self and the need to be free the emptiness of life without it. Once the real Self is recovered, equilibrium is established, and everything else falls into place.

When we start on the journey to selfrecovery, we start by letting go of that which is false. Of course we cannot do this until we become aware of what is false in our life. For each of us it will be different. When one thing is let go of, then another will appear. We don’t have to let go of everything at once. We just peel the onion little by little until we arrive at the core.

Mulla Nasrudin stood up in the marketplace and started to address the throng.

“Oh people! Do you want knowledge without difficulties, truth without falsehood, attainment without effort, progress without sacrifice?”

Very soon a large crowd gathered, everyone shouting: “Yes, yes!”

“Excellent!” said Nasrudin. “I only wanted to know. You may rely upon me to tell you all about it if I ever discover any such thing.”

—Indries Shah

Who Are You?
Who Are You Not?

In order to know who we are, we must also know who we are not, what is unworkable in our life, and when we are living someone else’s dream. We must know what feels disturbing, All of that simply points to what is fundamentally out of sync with the person we really are. It’s important to acknowledge that which we cannot do, that which is not for us. So many of us spend years of our lives twisting ourselves out of shape to conform to other people’s expectations of who we are or should become. (And our own expectations as well) Families and people who are “in love” are famous for projecting these images and demands upon one another. However, these expectations can cause pain, and lack of self acceptance,— the inability to know and to respect who we truly are.

Take a moment to see what is natural, easy, and enjoyable for you; what actually brings enthusiasm about being alive. Then take another moment to see what is not natural, easy, or enjoyable, what causes conflict, difficulty, confusion, and distress. What is it that pulls you down, hurts your feelings, upsets your digestion? Usually you do not give heed to this. Now is the time to turn it around. The first step is to take a good look. The next step is to say “No.”

You Can’t Say Yes if You Can’t Say No

This statement is a great medicine that must be deeply absorbed. So much fear arises because we are unable to say No. I am not speaking of an impulsive, automatic no we offer out of resistance, anger, or stubbornness. I’m speaking of a different kind of No. It comes from understanding and accepting what we are and what we are not.

This No is a sign of respect for yourself, recognition that it is perfectly fine to be who you are; you do not have to disguise, distort, or reject yourself. You do not have to be all things to all people, or live a life of imitation.

Many of us don’t know what we should say No to. We feel guilty and ashamed of not “going along” with everything. We feel that if we don’t meet everyone’s needs, we’ve failed or there is something wrong with us. Some of us imagine that we should be able to belong everywhere, respond to every calling. But this scatters our forces and causes confusion. By living in this manner, we lose touch with our authentic Self and cannot develop the courage to be who we are.

If You Can’t Say No, Your Yes Is Not A Real Yes

If others reject you because you’ve said No, let them. For now, realize that if you can’t say No, you are rejecting yourself. Also, realize that if you can’t say No, your Yes is not a real one. It is an automatic, knee-jerk response. It arises out of obligation and the wish to be accepted. This is not a true Yes, offered from the fullness of your being. When you can say Yes or No in an unconditional, wholehearted manner, loneliness and alienation has nowhere to live. Because you are now fully present to yourself.

Sometimes we receive the power to say Yes to life, then peace enters us and make us whole.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Brenda ShoshannaBrenda Shoshanna, Ph.d. is an award winning author, speaker, psychologist and long term Zen practitioner. Her work integrates the teachings of East and West. She offers talks, workshops and a weekly podcast, Zen Wisdom for Your Everyday Life. Her New Blog is called, TURN THE PAGE, ( The blog will be dedicated to personal and spiritual development and to providing a new look at what’s possible in our lives. We explore Self Change, Relationships, Zen, Healing, Letting Go, and ways of making the teachings real in our everyday lives. Many resources will be available to support you in your journey to that which is meaningful and life giving in every way. Come join us!





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