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November 25, 2009

This Wonderful Life: I can say No, but I prefer Yes

If popular culture is any indication, it seems women suffer from an epidemic inability to refuse additional responsibilities. Magazines, self-help books and therapists nationwide offer heaps of advice on how to assert oneself, draw boundaries and generally say No when asked to sign on for those things for which we have little time and less interest.

We’re urged to stop putting our own needs last and remember that taking time for ourselves is a necessity, not an act of selfishness. Me? I’ve never had that problem. When asked to take on something that sounds like a time-consuming bore (cooking daily meals, for example), I have no problem begging off. Just ask my husband — the one with the culinary talent and the weekly meal plans to prove it.

So you’d think I would have a lot of Me Time — hours and hours to kick back, read gossip magazines and figure out exactly how to apply Oprah’s vast and infallible wisdom to my daily existence.

You’d be wrong. Although I have no trouble saying No to other people, I have yet to be able to be so assertive with myself, which means that I perpetually (joyfully, excitedly) invite far more activity into my days than there are hours to accommodate it. Do I want to meet with friends every week for knitting and conversation? Yes.

Do I want to volunteer for one thing or another at my daughters’ schools? Absolutely. Can I help a friend of a friend’s daughter who wants to learn more about creative writing? You betcha.

You need help putting out a monthly newsletter to help your organization stay in touch with donors? Oooooh - me, me, me - I know how to do that.

A puppy who needs to be house-trained and taught to behave? I love puppies; I’m sure I’ll find the time somewhere.

You know what I’ve always wanted to do? Grow a massive organic garden. Sign me up.

And these two pigs we have in the back field will be gone by next month.

Time to start thinking about new baby animals for next spring. Maybe dairy and fiber goats. We’ll make our own cheese and I’ll learn to spin mohair. But first we’ll have to build our own barn and expand the fencing.

There’s no way that will get in the way of my schedule of growing my new business and taking a half-time load of writing-intensive college classes.

And it will leave plenty of time for being a parent and a wife and a person who wants to live in a house that is not in danger of health department condemnation. These are not chores or burdens. They’re passions and delights.

And the notion that I should be forced to choose between them, limit them or outright reject them is unfair in the extreme. Back in January, I decided to focus this year’s columns on attempts to live more mindfully. Incredibly, I don’t think I’m on anyone’s short list for Bodhisattva of the Year Award.

It’s a process. And for some of us the process toward more mindfulness is longer than for others.

What I have learned is that I am not good at saying no to myself. Not only do I want to have lots of experiences, but I want to pursue each and every one of them as though that were my only pursuit. It’s not sustainable.

So I am going to learn to apply my editor’s discipline to my artist’s joie de vivre. I will say yes to things that make me happy. But I will say yes to fewer of them.

One of the things to which I am sadly, painfully saying No is this very column.

I have written a weekly column in one form or another for various publications for some 16 years now. I’m not sure I know how to not do it. But in my effort to edit my commitments, I must make the difficult decision to take an indefinite hiatus from this column.

However, I plan to still maintain my blog at www. moremindfulfamily.wordpress. com, so please go online and have a look. You can even sign up to get new entries in your e-mail box or RSS reader.

I hope you’ll find me there, where we can go beyond just reading and writing and engage in conversation. I can promise to show up when I have something good to share.

In the meantime, I’ll be celebrating this Thanksgiving with an abundance of gratitude for all of you who have shared a few weekly moments with me.

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger is so glad we had this time together. You can continue this conversation at www.moremindfulfamily.