He powered it off and on and, like magic, the phone was operating again. My cell phone sometimes has to say "no" to incoming calls in order to be available to say "yes" again.
That was an eye-opener. I don't like to disappoint people. And there are so many, many, wonderful things to be interested in and to do in this world. I have often had trouble saying "no."
I've been thinking about this serendipitous phone lesson. I was not turning my cell phone off because I wanted it always to be available. Maybe the phone was not the only thing that was too available. Maybe I too would benefit from saying "no" more often.
Would I? I decided to look. I realized I didn't have a good way to measure my overall availability. It was something I had never stopped to consider, so I decided to begin by reviewing all my time requirements when looking at my calendar, not just my work and my appointments. Valuing the time I need to meditate, exercise, work on my writing, get the shopping done, be with my family, continue to develop a program for stroke survivors and their care networks, the volunteering I do, and still keep some time to rest and have fun was very illuminating.
I began to see the calendar as a way to establish a boundary of "no's" around my time. If I wanted time to take a walk on Tuesday, I could not go to a meeting that required me to drive an hour both ways. To say, "yes" to the walking, I needed to say "no" to the driving.
After a week of doing this, instead of feeling bad about saying "no," I began to feel good. If I said "no" to the driving, I could say "yes" to what I actually wanted to do, which was take a walk. I could have confidence, in fact, that I would not miss the walk because I was too busy.
This led to another discovery. Because I had said "no," my "yes" to the walk was clearer. It was not filled with distractions of: "I should really be doing this or that or the other thing." I had consciously said "yes" to the walk and I was not trying to be anywhere else or do any of the other things I thought I should be doing.
Being happily in my "yes" and feeling good about it, when I took a walk I noticed many things - creatures, rocks, trees - I might have otherwise missed. My "no" turned my "yes" into a fuller celebration of the moment. On a biting cold afternoon on the mountain while I was walking I came across a harmless snake. Sluggish and vulnerable in the chilly weather, the snake slowly eased its way across the bare dirt path into the shelter of the grass beyond. I stopped to watch, able to take a few moments to simply enjoy the experience of looking at the snake and wondering about its life in winter. Without a clear "yes," I would have walked right past the snake, never having seen it.
My calendar was turning into a budget of my time. Budgets can be a tool to help me say "no" to get to "yes" - I can't do this but I can do that. If I say "no" to this, then I have confidence that I can say "yes" to that and mean it. I have agreed with myself that I am going to focus on certain things and not others. I have made a commitment to myself.
Years ago, when I was working in Atlanta, a person I worked for taught me this lesson. He said: "Consider saying ‘no' first. You can always say ‘yes' later. But if you say ‘yes' first, it is very hard then to say ‘no'". Good advice. Saying "no" is not a negative. It's a choice. If I say, "yes" all the time, I become unavailable for what really matters to me. Understandingthat saying "no" is the way to say a deeper "yes", I can finally put the lesson I was taught into practice.