“No” is Love

Setting Limits as an Act of Love: The Power of Saying No

My AA sponsor once told me, “You can have anything you want, but not everything.” To be honest, it took me a while to understand exactly what she meant. But once I began to understand it, I realized that it applies to almost everything. Most importantly, it underlines how crucial it is to set limits and say no. It underlines that in fact, saying no is an act of love and honesty towards others and ourselves. 

When our default answer is yes, we permit everything, even though we know that no one can be happy having and doing everything. All the stuff, the activities, and everything else we think we need more of won’t make the days longer or better in the end. 

It might seem counterintuitive, but the more we have and do, the more we run ourselves ragged. The joy that we think would come from having everything would only be possible if we had infinite time here on earth. But we don’t, so we have to pick and choose where to set our limits. We choose where to say no, and in doing so, we craft our lives in a way that best serves us. 

If we learn to say yes to everything from a young age, we open up the gates to self-regulation issues, difficulty with boundaries, and so much more. This can result in an inability to feel safe. Having no boundaries or limits manifests as anxiety and fear in children because their sense of safety is compromised in that uncertainty. 

I Say Yes, When I Mean No
And the wrinkle grows.

Naomi Shihab Nye

A Lesson from Yoga Camp: the Confusion of Non-Existent Boundaries

When my kids were little, we used to go to a little hole-in-the-wall yoga camp at an ashram in upstate New York. It had such great loving energy. The camp leader, our teacher, was kind and taught the children wonderful things. She also brought her own daughter to camp.

The teacher’s daughter was about 3 or 4 years old, the first time we attended the camp, the same age as my younger daughter. At that age, it can be difficult to share your mother’s attention with other children. The yoga teacher’s daughter ended up being the most difficult of all the children at camp. She just wasn’t able to sit down and pay attention.

What surprised the other parents and me was that her mother never reprimanded her. Instead, with visible frustration mounting, she would repeatedly say in a constrained voice, “Honey dear, please sit down and be quiet.” It was strange to watch because the little girl was so difficult, but she was never actually told she was doing anything wrong. We could hear the anger in the mother’s voice, but still, she only used sweet words and never really put her foot down. 

In Yoga, everything is part of love and of the divine - even a strong NO!

As the teacher, it was understandable that she most likely felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to use firm language in front of us. Nonetheless, in yoga, everything is considered to be part of God: one manifestation of the Divine. Everything comes from love. This means that even the energy of “no” is part of that Divinity. Lessons from the Universe come in many forms, and often they include using strong language to provide secure boundaries and limits for our children. 

If the teacher had been firmer and clearer about what type of behavior was acceptable at camp, her daughter might have enjoyed it more. We have to strike a balance between yes and no. It can’t be all one or the other. 

Understanding boundaries and cultivating self-discipline

Teaching “no” and the reasoning behind it opens the gates for understanding one’s boundaries and cultivating self-discipline. Setting boundaries for your kids and encouraging them to learn how to set boundaries for themselves sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy relationships and healthy decisions. 

Modeling self-discipline to your kids is equally important in this process. From you, your children learn that it’s possible to protect yourself and your energy by saying no to unkind people and situations that don’t serve them. 

The reverse situation is also critical. Learning to accept a no teaches respect for others. Teaching our children to respect others’ boundaries mirrors healthy respect for their own boundaries back to them. 

It's easier to say yes

Saying no can be hard. In our society, it’s typically easier to say yes. We are wired to shy away from upsetting someone or not agreeing with something. This begins at a young age when we learn to fear upsetting our parents. But we can learn to work through this. Practicing saying no and starting small, like at home with someone we love, will help us regain our self-respect and respect for the boundaries of others. 

We take care of ourselves by setting limits on many of the available things to use in this day and age. We take care of ourselves by saying no to the many things that are asked of us. A life without these boundaries can’t provide true satisfaction because it will inevitably lead to burnout and self-abandonment. 

The unwavering truth is that when we agree to any demand, request, or
condition that is contrary to our soul’s nature, the cost is that precious
life force is drained off our core.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo – page 18

Saying No is an Act of Love

To this day (though it happens much less often than it used to), I occasionally go along with things simply because it’s easier that way, and I don’t want to upset anyone. Those are the times when I get angry with myself because I know I’m betraying my inner voice. The times when I say no and stand up for myself by putting my self-care first, I gain self-confidence and self-respect.

Ultimately, setting limits and boundaries by saying no is an act of love. We can choose to say it out of love for ourselves and others. We can also decide that hearing no from others and accepting their limits is a form of love, too. Sometimes, saying no to some of the enticing pleasures of life, even if it’s the more challenging road, comes from a place of love. Saying no is the highest form of self-care. 

How do we show our children that it's ok to make us mad and that we still love them?

When it comes to parenting, ask yourself, how can I do my best to give my children the space and self-confidence to discover their true inner selves? Navigating life with no boundaries and fear of upsetting others hinders this evolution towards their higher selves. As parents, if we undermine any and all disagreements with our kids when they are little, they’ll learn never to say no or disagree with anybody. 

Allow for “no” just as much as you allow for “yes.” They are equally important. Having a choice between the two builds integrity, which is crucial for inner joy and a balanced life. If you don’t present your kids with this choice, you may end up with children who don’t know how to make their own decisions or who rebel and say no to everything just to spite you. In my opinion, you have to let your kids get angry with you sometimes and put their foot down for the sake of their integrity. 

As a parent we work towards making sense

I’ve explained to my children why I set the limits I do many times. As a result, they’ve grown to understand the difference between healthy foods versus junk food, productive use of electronics versus wasted time, and safe ways to conduct themselves outside in public spaces. To them, hearing no when it comes to these areas of life doesn’t signal to them that I don’t love them. Instead, it’s a way of communicating that I want them to be safe and healthy. They understand that limits are the way I protect them. Of course, there are many times they don’t like hearing no, and might even throw a tantrum or get upset with me. But I know that on a deep level, it makes sense to them. They understand that this is the way life works. 

Limits are not dams to your love. They are ways to safeguard that which is beloved. By saying no for ourselves, we protect our own souls. By saying no to pave the way for our children and respecting their boundaries, we cherish their souls. 

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Abdi Assadi is unlike any other healer or spiritual teacher ever encountered. He is an expert in martial arts, and a dynamic healer practicing a diverse array of Chinese and Eastern Medicine, indigenous shamanic rituals, and meditation techniques. With a clinical practice in New York City for almost 4 decades, Abdi has accumulated a vast knowledge of real life experience working with several thousands of individuals, guiding them through the most difficult times, and teaching them how to understand themselves. One of the greatest things about him is he merges the human psyche with the spiritual psyche.

Steeped in deep wisdom and insight that is rare to find on this planet in these modern times, Abdi has an extraordinary ability in perceiving and comprehending human souls and their individual psyche. Guided by the divine, Abdi guides you to open up and see beyond your limited Self, into your own soul. His impeccable discernment enables him to unleash personal remarks that pierce through your veil, statements that you will never forget and in an instant alter your perception of yourself and your reality.

– Quotes from Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi:

All spiritual masters teach us that love is an activity before it is a condition – and that love is all-encompassing.
Page 18

It felt like I was coming off a race track and driving in a school zone. He knew, years before I did, that my speed was my way of suppressing my early childhood anxiety, and that only slowing down could heal it.

Why do you need to use all these words like God and spirituality? It is right here Abdi, all around you, all the time
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one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
Page 51

Ultimately it keeps grace out of our lives because we are using our will power to manipulate every event and person around us.
Page 74

His lesson, which I had begun to learn for myself, is that outside circumstances do not define our internal experience if we can surrender into them. Painful or undesirable situations will always arise; true suffering comes from our ego’s desire to resist life as it is.
Page 77

Note from Pernilla:
I met Abdi in the fall of 2014 and when I arrived in his office the first thing he said was, “It’s time that you stop carrying other people’s anxiety.” In the year that followed, my entrenched codependency patterns reared their ugly heads and I was confronted with a part of myself that I had never even known was there.

A few years later, Abdi said, “When are you going to start writing your book?”I looked at him in surprise. I was not a writer. My expertise was centered around creating crazy good Excel spreadsheets. However, I started writing and collecting notes about life issues and life experiences … and here we are a few years later.

Sally Kempton is a preeminent meditation teacher of our time.

She is an expert scholar in Hinduism and all Hindu texts especially in Kashmir Shaivisim. Formerly Swami Durgananda, she left monastic life in the 1980’s to teach publicly. She has written several books and is one of the most known and loved spiritual teachers in our time.

Note from Pernilla:

I met Sally at one of her workshops at City Yoga in LA in 2003. She had the most gentle and loving disposition, and I just wanted to always be around her. I was fortunate to have been part of her two year-long “Transformative journey” courses in 2006 and 2007 and many retreats ever since. She is the true representation of unconditional love and transmits intense shakti from her Guru Swami Muktananda.

Sally is the primary building block and foundation in my spiritual journey. Without her, I would have never found and stuck with meditation – the most transformative experience of my life. Without her, I would have been lost without a clue where to go next. Her wealth of knowledge of yogic philosophy and incredible understanding of the human condition is what makes her a force to be reckoned with.  She understands your depth and makes you feel seen, heard, validated, and deeply loved.