by: Jennifer R. Keup
The week of Thanksgiving, I sat in my regular yoga studio listening to my instructor begin the class with a statement of intentions for our 90 minutes together. Much to my surprise she shared the following: “Thanksgiving is the time when we might expect to engage in a practice with the intention of ‘gratitude.’ While I certainly support the idea and practice of gratitude, I would rather spend our time on the intention of setting appropriate boundaries. By saying ‘no’ to family members, to food, to holiday obligations, or to other things, we are often saying ‘yes’ to ourselves in the healthiest of ways.”
Despite my initial shock, I have revisited my yoga instructor’s sentiment many times since I first heard it sitting cross-legged on my mat a few weeks back. Saying “no” to others is something that I, like many of us, find very difficult. It would let people down. It would allow opportunities to whiz by me that parts of me are afraid I was never worthy of in the first place and may never come around again. It isn’t considered nurturing or empathetic. It suggests that I am incapable of balancing everything that I am “supposed” to do. It is selfish. Right?
And yet the words of the contributors to this wonderful blog community remind me regularly that none of that is true:
- As Brandy Turnbow said in a #SAFeminist blog entry in December of last year, in the face of “small wins met with larger defeats or complete restructuring of purpose” and the anxiety associated with the end of term and upcoming holidays, she relies “heavily on my simple meditation of Space and Grace. Both capitalized; they’re that important. Space to attend to my self-care and self-reflection. Grace not to hold guilt for prioritizing my needs.”
- Amy Howton reminds us that self-care is important to our community and our work as well as to us as individuals and quotes Audre Lorde to say “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” Amy states that, as feminists in our field, we must tend to ourselves in order to maintain our work as leaders and advocates. Critical to that process is the “ability to create and sustain healthy boundaries with relationships and with work/life.”
- Jennifer Stripe counsels that “Balance is Bunk” anyway so “delineating between a ‘must do’ – the priority list – versus a ‘nice to do’ – the wish list – in all of [our] roles” is critical to our efficiency, effectiveness, and existential peace. When we get to the point when integrating one more thing is just not possible, we need to accept the priorities that our choices illustrate at that time and release our mommy/spousal/friend/employee/supervisor/[insert appropriate term here] guilt in service to ourselves.
- And Jodi Koslow Martin shared in her holiday post to this blog in 2014, that what we get out of saying “no” to others and diminishing the obligations that we begrudgingly shoulder is the space within ourselves for the expression of true joy.
So, my wish to all of you during this winter break and as the calendar turns is to give yourself the permission to say “no” to others and see it as a way of saying “yes” to yourself (I promise to work on this too!). Say “no” to holiday obligations, work responsibilities, familial guilt, political argument as we face an election year, your own expectations of yourself, society’s script for what you “should” be, emotionally-taxing people, etc. The action does not have to be a big, public statement. It can be the smallest gesture if that is all you can do. It can be holding just the tiniest bit back. However, choose yourself in that “no” unapologetically and with intentionality. Feel empowered to live the words that our friends and colleagues have shared on this blog: give yourself the gift of space and grace as a personal, professional, and political act and release yourself from the demands of trying to balance it all to allow for true peace and real joy.
With that holiday wish and in gratitude to my yoga instructor, fellow bloggers, and #SAFeminist community, the spirit in me salutes the spirit in you. Namaste.