“Today, what does your body say? What do you need to say no to? What is your body saying no to?”

Listening to our bodies. Listening to our guts. Sometimes we have a bad feeling about a person or a place or a food or anything. And sometimes we push those feelings aside to our detriment. How do we respect our bodies when they are telling us “no?”

Transcripts and notes:


Recorded 22 May 2023.


Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in.

You know that thing where you make like three quarters of a note about an idea to yourself, and then when you go back to do the thing, you have no idea what you meant. Yeah, that just happened to me.

So instead of doing what's on my list, I'm going to talk a little bit about knowing- I'm going to talk a little bit about knowing what our bodies are telling us. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, far, far, far away from where I am now, there was a person. And I had a partner. And that partner really liked this other person. Really liked, but really liked in that, like, intense, all-in kind of way really liked.

The problem was that I didn't feel that way about that person. Something was off, my gut was cranky. My gut was cranky about this person, I, I couldn't put my finger on it. I thought maybe it had to do with the way that this person reminded me of a previous difficult person in my life. But whatever it was, I could feel my nervous system getting just irritated. Just by being in this person's presence.

And when I say irritated, I don't mean like, irritated at the person. It was my nervous system. And it was irritated at me. My nervous system was mad at me for putting me in proximity to this person. And so we would like hang out or go out for food or whatever. And we would have a perfectly good conversation. Everything would look okay.

The person was kind and reasonably generous and not overbearing, and- and yet, and yet, my nervous system would be exhausted from the end of the evening. Because it would have spent the entire time yelling at me. "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, let's, let's get out. Let's go, go, go, go, go. Let's get away. Let's, I just want to."

Now I'm an introvert. So sometimes being around people in general makes me tired in general. And I kind of thought maybe that was what was going on. But it wasn't. I just didn't like this person. I didn't know why I didn't like this person. But my partner at the time really liked this person. And at the time, I really trusted that partner's judgment. And so I went along with it, we hung out a lot more, the person became closer and closer and closer to us.

Ultimately, that was a mistake. And it was a mistake I had come to understand the hard way. The long way. The extremely damaging, I am still dealing with the after effects of the trauma of that person's presence in my life. What's unfortunate, is that that was not the first time that had happened. And it ended up not being the last.

For some reason, some combination of intensiveness and trauma and whatever, every so often, I talked myself into overriding my better judgment about someone. Every so often, my bones are like, "No." My brain is like you gotta give them a chance. And my bones are like "no," and my brain is like, come "on." And my bones are like, "No." And my brain is like "you are being unreasonable." It turns out that it is almost never unreasonable to attend to those feelings. Sometimes those feelings will change. But attend to them, not force those feelings to change, which is what I did with that person I mentioned.

I kept using every tool I had to soothe my nervous system, even when it didn't like it. Even when it didn't think it was a good fit. And this is not necessarily a judgment on anybody that I have ever felt that way about. It's not about them being good people or bad people necessarily. It's about us not being compatible in some ineffable, inexplicable way. And about whether or not I respected my body when it told me that.

And it's not just people, it's jobs. It's foods, it's activities. When my body says "no," I have got to listen. My body says "no," I have got to listen. And you'd think at age 48, and counting, I would have figured that out. And mostly I have, intellectually. But every so often I want the answer to be different. And so I do something, to make the answer be different. And the older I get, the more tips and tools I have for managing and regulating my body's responses when they really are not grounded in reality. And sometimes I use them to my detriment.

Sometimes using those tools and tricks is not the thing we need to do. Sometimes, even if- even if I love someone, or something, or a place- if it makes me anxious every time I'm there, maybe it's not the best place for me to hang out. Even if I love the idea of it. If it doesn't feel good, it doesn't feel good. And yes, I have spent time in California. And yes, this is about vibes.

But really no matter where your concept of vibes comes from, sometimes it is correct. And the idea that we all have to get along in this deeply integrated, intimate way, is- is modern and weird. It is just weird. We don't expect every dog to become best buddies with every other dog. So why do we expect ourselves to be able to be the same with every place and every person? That's weird? And yet, even though we don't say we expect it, of course, people have favorite places, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

At the other end of the spectrum, when people like note that place gives me the creeps, and I'm not going there, so often we'll be like, "aw come on, it's fine." No. Maybe it does give them the creeps. Maybe they know something you don't know. But maybe it's fine for you, and it's not fine for them. And then we do it to ourselves. Oh, it's fine. It should be fine. It's Okay. No, no, it's not Okay. It's not Okay.

And sometimes we don't know what to do next. Especially, especially if there's any kind of long term or geographic or situational connection. Being like, yeah, I don't want to get any closer. I don't want to do any more. That place is fine to go to once a month, but I am not interested in going there once a week or every day. Okay, then don't. Then don't.

Years and years ago when I was starting to learn about explicit consent- and really, when our entire culture was starting to name and integrate the idea of explicit consent- years and years ago, we started saying "no" is a complete sentence. And I know that's not technically true. Grammatically, "no" is not a complete sentence. And yet, what we meant was you don't have to explain your no. You don't have to explain your refusal. And that is true.

And the number of times in our cultures and societies we make that less true, especially for people who are assigned female at birth, especially for people who present feminine, femme, or who are read as women: "no" still a complete sentence. "No" is a complete sentence. All you have to say is no, I don't want to. That's enough. No, I'm not going to. I'm not available for that. No. Just no.

It's a weird practice, to say no without giving an explanation. When your congregation says, Will you volunteer for this? And you say no, I'm not available for that. That's it. That's the whole sentence. And what I try to tell congregations when I work with them, and other organizations that work with volunteers, is that when somebody says no, you don't pressure them to say yes. Because that is teaching us to override our intuitive sense of what we can and can't do, what we are and aren't available for. And that leads to bad experiences for everyone.

And that is also how you burn out volunteers and teach people disrespect and that is not what we're about. But it also happens within us. We need to respect ourselves enough that when we say no, we mean it. And sometimes it's a complicated conversation. If you've ever done internal family systems parts work, you'll feel that complication.

Sometimes there's- it's weird, sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense. Sometimes, you know, it's I want to go for a walk. But I don't want to go for a walk. But I want to go for a walk. But I don't want to go for a walk. In case you can't tell this is something that happens in my head a lot. And if that conversation is happening, then maybe I do need to override the No, because there's also a very compelling Yes. And either we're doing it or not doing it, we have to make a decision.

Sometimes there's a compromise. Sometimes it's we'll do something else with our body, we'll go out in the garden, we'll exercise we'll something. We'll walk to the shops. I used to do this. When I lived in Berkeley, we'll walk to the shops and we'll get our groceries and then we'll be running an errand but we'll also go for a walk. And somehow that was more acceptable. I don't know.

So sometimes it's complicated. Sometimes the conversation is, is nuanced. But if there is that deep, nagging No, that's okay. No can be a complete sentence. We can respect ourselves and the people around us when they say no, they're not doing something. We can say, as we often teach in the sexuality education world, "thank you for taking care of yourself." And mean it. And mean it. And we can say it as rote if that's all we've got. But but we can mean it. Thank you for taking care of yourself.

Today, what does your body say? We can mean it. Thank you for taking care of yourself. Today, right now. What do you need to say no to? What is your body saying no to? Deep, viscerally. Not just a little cranky "ech, I don't feel like it." That's different. What is your body actually telling you no about? What happens if you respect that? What happens if you listen?

I want to end here. But I also know from years and years and years of teaching the stuff, that someone's gonna say, "but I can't. It's critical stuff that has to get done." If that is the case, how can you create redundancy in your system? Not in your internal system, but in your external system? In what way can you make sure that some of the time, that critical stuff can be done differently?

And when I ask that question, so many people heartbreakingly say, "I don't have anybody, I don't have any resources, I can't afford to hire someone. And I can't ask anyone around me to do it." I was just talking to some folks recently about that. First of all, in a world of insoluble problems, sometimes it's really satisfying to have a concrete solution for someone's problem.

Secondly, this is why we build community. It is heartbreaking to me how many people go through so much of their lives without community. But one of the ways that you build community- and this I learned in the small towns that I've lived in, really across North America- the way that we build community is by asking for help, and seeing genuine yesses, and genuine nos, and trusting each other to do that. Which is a culture shift. But it's a cultural shift that we can start.

Who do you know? Who could you know better? How could you do that? How can we love and respect and connect with each other? And when our bodies say yes, say yes. And when our bodies say no, say no.

Thanks for tuning in. Talk with you soon.