The Courage to Say “No,” The Courage to Say “Yes”

Today I made a momentous decision. I chose to follow my heart instead of my head. I chose to take care of myself instead of jumping back into taking care of a room full of university students.

A little over a year ago I lost my teaching job at UC Irvine to severe budget cuts. This morning I received an email from my program director Lynda offering me two courses this fall. This represented $10,000 worth of income and a chance to get my foot back into the door during hard economic times. It also made me feel very much appreciated and wanted.

But after going over all the pros and cons and talking to my “touchstone” people, I wrote Lynda an email saying sorry, but I can’t accept it. The reason I gave was my chronic hoarseness and inability to speak well. It is true that I am just at the beginning of my treatments to get my voice back, and that I cannot count on my being able to lecture for four hours, twice a week, attend meetings, and be present for students during office hours when sometimes I can’t speak without coughing and I have barely any volume in my voice.

But the real reason is that I don’t know who I am anymore and I have to allow myself the space to find out. The last thing on earth I need right now is to give all of my energy and attention to the very rewarding, yet very time-consuming and stressful job of teaching eighteen-year-olds. Even when I’m in perfect health, there is little or no time left over for me or for any type of creative work when I have to focus all my attention on forty-six freshmen in two classes, grading draft after draft of ten-page critical analysis papers, and a total of ninety smaller assignments during the course of the term.

It was so tempting—the money, not having to pay insurance premiums for four months (I think they have to give me health insurance benefits since I have a history of teaching there for four years—or maybe not), getting back into a familiar routine, resuming my old identity.

But for the first time in my life I need to put myself and my creative work first. I need all my energy for healing my body, and I need a flexible schedule for writing, journaling, meditating, being in silence, asking, “What does life require of me now? How can I fulfill my life’s purpose? How can I take this energy that has been stuck in every cell of my body and finally let it out?”

I’ve never done this before. I’ve always made the “practical” decision. It’s scary, even though I know it’s the right thing to do. And I do have options: my free-lance editing work. I’m not going to starve, the bills will get paid.

I’m learning how to love and take care of myself, and this is an important first step. To say “No” to things that would take you away from having the time to truly listen to your inner voice and to say “Yes” to all the possibilities that your life can be different now, richer, more satisfying, more of an adventure—is thrilling.

As Adrienne Rich says in her poem “Transcendental Etude”:

 But there come times—perhaps this is one of them—

when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;

when we have to pull back from the incantations

rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,

and disenthrall ourselves, bestow

ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed

of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static

crowding the wires. We cut the wires,

find ourselves in free-fall, as if

our true home were the undimensional

solitudes, the rift

in the Great Nebula.

no one who survives to speak

new language has avoided this:

the cutting away of an old force that held her

rooted to an old ground….

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About Joy Parker

As a three-time cancer survivor and storyteller, I felt compelled to create this blog because I felt the need to connect with an audience and immediately share what I am learning as I am learning it. The material in this blog is serving as the basis for two books that I am writing. The first book talks about how illness is a vehicle that takes us into the unknown land, teaches us things we couldn’t otherwise learn, and then gives us the opportunity to bring them back to our community. It offers a compass and creates a map of the unknown land so that others might find their path more easily. Most important, it shares what I have learned about waking up and being truly alive in this magnificent world. That might sound simple enough, but the actual experience is devastatingly beautiful and powerful. The second project is a book with medicine cards discussing many of the lessons I’ve learned from my experiences with healing and as a healer, the indigenous world, and walking a spiritual path. Most important, it is the story of the development of my own personal mythology. People tend to think of myths as massive stories and beliefs that develop in a culture over hundreds or thousands of years. We now live in a time of crisis and we don’t have a hundred years. The time for healing and transformation is now, and we are the ones we have been waiting for.
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One Response to The Courage to Say “No,” The Courage to Say “Yes”

  1. Tayria Ward says:

    Joy, SO inspiring. Adrienne Rich gives words to your immense vision and courage.

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