There is tension on the tiller as I grip it. Sails snap and then tighten. My family is the crew. We are gliding across Lake Geneva in Wisconsin on a beautiful summer afternoon. Waves break against the bow of our boat as we pass homes dotting the shoreline. It’s been years since we sailed. Yet the remembered sensation of zipping across water still lives in my body.
Sailing teaches many lessons. Paying attention to changes in the wind is one. If we stay sensitive to it the boat moves. If we do not, the sails begin to flap. We stop. Seasoned captains do not even look at the wind indicator, a piece of ribbon attached to the sail. They feel changes and act accordingly.
The practice of moving with a connection to our inner voice is similar. Developing a subtle awareness of what we are feeling, what we long for and speaking it is an art. As with all arts it takes practice. Slowing down and listening to ourselves is often the first step.
There is one place where we frequently lose that connection. It is in relationships. When a friend asks us to go for lunch, how do we say ‘no’ when there isn’t any reason to decline? This is where the ocean of politeness begins to swallow our true selves. It is where telling the truth becomes difficult. Yet, to live from a place of authenticity we must learn to say ‘no.’
It sounds hardhearted to those of us who were taught not to hurt anyone’s feelings. “Thank you for the invitation. You know Barb. I’ve been on the go so much lately that I need time to be by myself. I need to regroup. Can I call you in a couple weeks and talk about a time to meet?”
Does that sound mean?
Our responses become disingenuous when we say what we think we should say rather than what we want to say. And, as Anne Morrow Lindberg said in Gift from the Sea, “The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.” To live with sincerity is not easy. But the consequences of dishonesty are higher than exhaustion. Not speaking up disconnects us from our true self. And if we fail to do that long enough, we become unclear about what we want.
Anne Lamott addressed this issue in an article for Oprah’s O magazine entitled, Becoming the Person You Were Meant to Be: Where to Start. “How do we relieve ourselves of the false fronts of people-pleasing … You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t. You take the action, and the insight follows: You don’t think your way into becoming yourself.”
We start by taking action to find our way back to ourselves.
The same holds true when sailing. Losing the connection to the wind means making an assessment and an adjustment. Often we would try a few things before the boat started to move again. Similarly it might take many tries to find our way back to ourselves. When we realize we are stuck it is a good time to look for places where we might need to say ‘no.’
Sometimes a kindly “No Thank You.” Is all it takes.