(listening time: 5:35 minutes)
One humid Sunday in July, Asha and I entered the woods and veered left at the fork in the trail as we often do.* Several yards later, I turned around and saw Asha had stopped.
She wasn’t intently smelling ferns or searching the sky for the source of a sound. Her expression wasn’t one of worry. She wasn’t alert and curious with her guard hairs up. Her tail wasn’t tucked tight indicating fear.
She simply stood in the middle of the path.
I called and she came without her usual eagerness and stopped again, so we returned to the fork and started up the trail on the right. The same thing happened. Another full stop.
Perhaps she smelled something. Perhaps she was as worn out by the humidity as I was and wanted a morning off. Perhaps she wasn’t feeling well.
I’ll never know.
But I do know Asha was saying “No” and I needed to respect that.
As we turned around, I was intrigued by the ease with which I said, “Okay, Asha. Let’s go home.”
Asha knows things I don’t. She knows before I do that a storm is coming. She catches the scent of her friend Melia and races along the trail to find her. She’ll be asleep, then suddenly bark and run around the house, alerted by something I didn’t hear.
It’s my job to listen to her and not just the other way around. If I want her to listen when I say, “No! Stay away from the porcupine,” I need to listen when she says, “No, I’m not walking up that trail.”
So when Asha comes to a full stop, I accept she has a reason, even if I don’t know what it is.
My ability to accept my own No’s is a different matter.
Sometimes it’s straightforward. I say No and move on. “No. It’s too humid to eat dinner on the porch.” “No. I don’t feel safe going to the beach right now even if we wear masks and stay more than six feet away from others.” “No. I don’t want to weave that custom order because weaving single-colored cloth is not my style.”
Then there are the challenging No’s – the ones that have a Supposed To or a Should attached – that tie me up in doubt, have me spend hours second-guessing myself.
When I started my weaving business, Whimsy & Tea, a lot of craftspeople asked if I had an Etsy store. Given their enthusiasm, I felt I was supposed to set up a store too. I researched the ecommerce platform and could see the appeal, but something in me wasn’t convinced.
Around that time I started exploring ways to get out of my head, which can argue pros and cons for days, and tap into my body’s wisdom. When I checked in with my body about Etsy, the answer was “No, this isn’t for you.”
While I acted accordingly, this didn’t stop me from second-guessing my decision. I was a good girl, used to looking outside myself for advice so wanted to know why Etsy wasn’t for me. When so many others embraced the ecommerce platform, why wasn’t I? I felt like I needed a logical explanation, and preferably an irrefutable one. The next time someone asked, I wanted to respond, “No, because ….” And saying, “No, because my body says No,” felt too woo-woo to say aloud.
When I finally accepted that what mattered was respecting the No, not articulating the reason, I felt such relief. I let go of the exhausting pushing and prodding and trusted my own wisdom. “No” became a complete sentence.
I can still get tied up in knots, searching for the reasons behind a No, but over time this has become less and less about feeling I need to justify or explain myself to others. It’s also less about second-guessing myself because I think others know more than I do. Instead it’s rooted in curiosity and a desire to uncover what the No is telling me about what matters to me, so that I can more fully step into myself.
I don’t have Asha’s keen sense of smell, her acute hearing, her sensitivity to changes in the weather. I do have intuition, gut responses, stuck energy and ways to check in with my body. My journey with No has been – and continues to be – about listening to and trusting these non-verbal ways of knowing. It’s about reclaiming my own wisdom.
* I respectfully acknowledge that Asha and I live and walk on the ancestral homelands of the Pocumtuck, whose descendants, along with the Nipmuck and the Abenaki, still live here.